Under Cody it’s as if they think more like Corkmen than Corkmen themselves.
In his autobiography, Roy Keane wrote about his frustration with Manchester United’s occasionally lax approach to lesser opponents, as if they could switch off the intensity playing the likes of Southampton and then turn it back on for a Champions League tie against Juventus.
“This team is not in the now-and-again business,” he proclaimed. “For a club of our stature we’re supposed to be in the every-time-you-pull-the-jersey-on-get-the-job-done business.”
Clearly Brian Cody believes Kilkenny are in a similar business. They even go beyond that. Under John Allen the Cork hurlers adopted a mantra: Gach uile liathróid. Translated into Béarla, it read as Every Single Ball but although it was Cork who came up with it, Kilkenny have been the ones to live by it. Whether they’re ahead or behind, the scoreboard does not seem to matter to them; they just keep playing.
Never were they more Kilkenny than in the closing moments of the 2010 All-Ireland final against Tipp, their one championship defeat since DJ Carey retired six years ago. With his side trailing by six points, Jackie Tyrrell stormed up the field to score a point. The outcome was already a certainty but under Cody you’re always playing for something — to hold onto the jersey, to respect the jersey — and Tyrrell’s act of defiance exemplified their warrior spirit.
It is the same when they are ahead, regardless if it’s Laois or Tipperary or a Walsh Cup game or an All-Ireland semi-final. Last Sunday, Luke O’Farrell seemed certain to score a goal for Cork only for Paul Murphy to scoop it off the line. It might have seemed a mean, unnecessary intervention, denying Cork a consolation goal, but for Kilkenny, so much else was literally still on the line: the business they’re in, to contest not just every single game but every single ball.
There has never been a GAA team like this. Last Sunday night in RTÉ’s preview of the upcoming hurling championship, Justin McCarthy made the point that it could be a special year for Kilkenny with Henry Shefflin closing in on a ninth All Ireland, primed to overtake Ring and Doyle. He’s right but that is not the only measure of greatness that awaits Cody’s charges. If Henry and his manager each win a ninth All-Ireland, they surpass Micko and Mikey and Páidí too and lay claim to be not merely the greatest hurling team ever but the greatest GAA team too.
Actually, they’re probably that already, by virtue of their superior league record.
Under Cody, Kilkenny have now won six leagues. O’Dwyer’s Kerry only won three. Only three times in Cody’s 14 seasons in charge have Kilkenny failed to make the semi-finals or better; under O’Dwyer, Kerry only made the quarter-finals or better every second year.
Even when O’Dwyer’s men won league titles it was never with the same conviction as Cody’s Cats. In 1982 Kerry lost four of their opening seven league games (and people say this year’s league was unique in rewarding mediocrity). Their biggest-winning margin en route to the 1984 title was a six-point quarter-final victory over Longford.
From 1976 to 1987, their win-loss record in the league was 62 percent. Cody’s Kilkenny have played 105 league games, winning 79, and losing just 21.
Kerry’s average winning margin under O’Dwyer in those campaigns was just 2.2 points a game. Kilkenny’s under Cody is three times greater.
Only three times in their 105 league games have Cody’s team lost by more than six points — to Clare in the ‘01 semi-final, Clare again in ‘04 and Dublin in last year’s league final — and within 12 months of all those defeats, Kilkenny dished out unmerciful hammerings to those same opponents.
The past two times Kilkenny failed to make the league play-offs, their heaviest defeat in either spring campaign was four points. Micko’s side regularly lost heavily up north.
Of course we’re not exactly comparing like to like. Spillane and Sheehy and the boys were being asked to get back playing league football in the mud and the rain only three weeks after lifting Sam on the steps of the Hogan. Cody’s team have a good four months to rest up before another league season starts.
But that’s offset by another factor. Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Ulster and Connacht teams — Dermot Earley’s Roscommon excepted — were championship cannon fodder to whoever came out of Munster and Leinster, where there were only a couple of decent teams too.
Kilkenny had to compete in the post-revolution years, when all their competitors had either stood on or at least captured a view of the mountaintop. Yet since Loughnane’s Galway in 2007, only Tipp have seriously tested Kilkenny in championship hurling, and in the league, Cody’s men continue to mow teams down, though Henry has played in only one of the last six spring campaigns.
Even allowing for Cork’s difficulties post-JBM and post-Allen and Tipp’s post-Nicky and post-Sheedy, it’s still an astonishing period of dominance, let alone consistency.
This year’s league indicates Cody’s Kilkenny are the greatest GAA team ever. This summer would confirm it.
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