SEVENTY minutes stand between Brian Cody and his sixth All-Ireland title in a decade as Kilkenny’s architect-in-chief but he already stands apart as hurling’s “greatest manager” regardless of Sunday’s outcome, according to Nicky English.
The James Stephens clubman took the helm in 1999 when he succeeded Kevin Fennelly. By then the county had endured six seasons without an All-Ireland title. Since then they have won nine Leinster titles and four National Leagues in addition to their Liam MacCarthy successes.
“Brian lives for hurling,” said English. “He has been lucky enough to have a fantastic crop of players but he has managed them consistently well over the years and his management style is straightforward. If you play and don’t get injured you stay on the team.
“Everyone knows where they stand under Brian. He is the greatest manager in hurling given the fact that he has been able to manage those players to All-Ireland after All-Ireland. For him, three-in-a-row will certainly drive him on.”
Cody has always argued that there is no secret formula to Kilkenny’s litany of successes but the presence of his steady hand on the tiller has been crucial in squeezing every last drop out of an undoubtedly gifted generation of players.
Reputations or medals are no insulation in the battle to win or retain a place in Kilkenny’s first XV under Cody. The disappearance of Charlie Carter off the panel was merely the most celebrated example of that. That said, second comings aren’t unheard of either.
“Aidan Fogarty was man of the match in the final two years ago and went back to being a bit player.
“He has obviously trained really well and came on at the end against Wexford when they were 15 or so ahead but he wanted to show that he could play. On that basis, and on his training form, he was back the last day and was outstanding against Cork.”
Win or lose, English expects Cody to be taking the training sessions again next season. Not that he sees them losing. He goes along with the prevailing current that is predicting a Kilkenny win but doesn’t write Waterford out of the equation completely.
A three-time finalist as a player himself, English went on to manage the Tipperary side that won the 2001 All-Ireland and he has seen enough in that time to realise that one should expect the unexpected on the first Sunday in September.
“When it comes to All-Ireland finals it is, in many cases, the unheralded guy, the guy least expected, who actually turns the table. Aidan Fogarty did it for Kilkenny a couple of years ago, Larry Corbett did it for us in 2001. Guys can come from nowhere and it will be interesting to see what happens. Waterford are the inexperienced final team but they have a load of experience built up all the same. A lot of it is bad experience from semi-finals but that might not be a bad thing either.
“As long as the hype doesn’t come into it, they are on the right road. For Kilkenny, this is just another All-Ireland final. How many have they been in under Brian Cody now? I know it is three-in-a-row but they need to make sure they are on edge for it.”
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