Even the greatest of them all feels ‘helpless’ when matchday arrives

Even the greatest of them all feels ‘helpless’ when matchday arrives
WALK THE LINE: Kilkenny manager Brian Cody feels there is no mystery to finding motivation after 20 years in charge of the Cats and says if he did not feel like doing it, he wouldn’t. Picture: David Fitzgerald

The most successful manager in the history of hurling has a confession to make about managing.

“I always feel helpless,” says Brian Cody. “You are there and you can pretend you have this huge influence on things, but it is all about what is happening on the field.

“You can’t go in on the field. I would never have any sense of my absolute importance to the players on match day at all.

“It is the importance of the players and what they bring. You live and die by that.”

The Kilkenny manager is on that sideline two decades, though. That means a lot of experience to draw on. Take the criticism of Kilkenny forwards going for goal in the Leinster final.

“No, no, I had no problem in the slightest with that. The game was as it was. We did what we did. I would be happy with what we did. For the previous 69 minutes, we had all the time to get the scores we needed to get, and it didn’t happen.

“We were beaten by a goal. We didn’t take all our opportunities. The important thing was we were still alive in the championship. Both teams knew that going into the game.”

The Kilkenny emphasis on honesty and application is well known, but just how easy are those qualities to discern in a player?

“You see it very quickly,” says Cody.

It’s easy to make the ball talk if you have that sort of skill, but most of the time it is about honesty of effort. You are always being tested, in training, in club matches or whatever. You can see leadership.

"You can see genuineness, honesty, a mile away and it is so important to have that. You can’t switch it on and off. It is either what you do or don’t. It is brilliant to have players who do have it.

“Players who haven’t those qualities haven’t a hope of surviving. Inter-county players have to be skilful to make it, some have outrageous skill, but the make-up, the character and all they bring is important.

“It’s a team game. You have to completely apply yourself, from a team point of view. It’s no use going out and saying ‘sure I tapped over a few points myself’. What did you do for your team? That is what it’s all about. If a lad hasn’t those qualities, he is not a gifted hurler.”

What’s changed in his 20 years in the job?

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“It’s not even a job. It is what I do. The single biggest difference? I have no idea. People talk about the changes in young people and everything else. I don’t have any problem with that. I have been a primary teacher all my life and I have been dealing with younger teachers and children and involved with club players all my life.

“I have seen all these different things. I don’t find anything fantastic about the changes. Are there changes in the game? Yes there are, of course. But to me, the fundamentals of the game don’t change. I don’t believe they can change.

“It is a game of skill, huge skill, physicality, pace, drive, honesty, determination, and all of those things are the fundamentals. In my mind they can’t change. What can change are the various ways people put their team out.

“You can only play 15-a-side, but there are no restrictions on how you employ those players. Different things have come into the game over the years, with different coaches putting out different formations. That is challenging because it is different. That is a change alright. Other than that, it is hurling.”

He’s similarly pragmatic about players being out injured: “You would love to have everyone available, but we don’t tend to dwell on it too much.

There is no point in me talking about having confidence in the panel and then panicking when two or three players are missing. That is where the panel comes into action and the panel did, magnificently.

And the entire panel benefits from a win like the All-Ireland semi-final, obviously: “Winning breeds confidence. A good performance breeds confidence as well.

“Different individuals playing at a particular level helps them too. It is a learning experience for some of our players. Knowing they can go to Croke Park and perform at that level against the best team in the county over the last 12 months has to help. No doubt.”

Those are the specifics. Generally, though, where does the Cody coaching philosophy come from?

“From the time you are a child, you are storing away stuff without even knowing it,” he says.

“The biggest influence I had was my own father (Bill). He was hugely involved in hurling and terrifically involved in my club for a long, long time, as I was. At primary and secondary school level, I was in hurling situations.

“All that is there. Things you store away — without knowing it — are always there. I have played under various coaches and managers and you pick up things as you go along. Then it’s very important that you bring yourself to whatever situation you find yourself in. Bring your personality. You can’t try to be someone else.

“You can bring what you think someone else might think is important to the job. You have to bring the things you believe are true for yourself. Otherwise you can’t be consistent. Would I have had the privilege of being influenced by others? Of course.”

Twenty years, though. How does someone motivate themselves over that time?

“I enjoy being it (manager), that’s the reality. I could dress it up and come up with all sorts of fanciful things about it but there are none.

“I’ve been involved with hurling, from playing, coaching young lads to all sorts of lads all my life. Why? Because I enjoy it and I enjoy it as much now as I did before.

“I don’t have to get up and do this every single year or I don’t have to do it at all. If I didn’t feel like doing it I wouldn’t do it. There is no mystery to it, to be honest about it.”

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