Claws will be out as Cats’ eyes on Clare

ALLIANZ HL DIVISION 1A:

Claws will be out as Cats’ eyes on Clare

You were the most beautiful bride ever, nobody’s in any doubt about that. It was a two-day wedding and the nation was captivated.

Such style! Such grace! The afters went on for months: medal presentations, holidays, The Late Late Show. Christmas was wonderful and you secretly wished it could have lasted forever.

But then the new year came and you discovered something. There are other girls out there and, behind the smiles and squeals of congratulation, there’s murder in their eyes.

They’re jealous of you. They want to beat you. They want to be you.

One girl in particular. Famous for wearing stripes. She’s older than you, she’s not as pretty and, quite frankly, she’s getting a bit raddled looking. But she simply adores her days out in September and she was the belle of the ball long before you arrived, dah-ling. What’s more, she’s determined to be the belle of the ball again.

So she’ll be all pie to you tomorrow in Ennis. But once the ball is thrown in, the claws will come out. Get used to it, Cinderella. This is how it’s going to be for the year.

The public may love you but the other girls don’t. Nor should they. Nor will anyone from outside the county ever love you quite the same way again. That’s how it goes when you wear the tiara.

It’s easy to spin this Cusack Park fixture into something it isn’t. Being the clash of the All-Ireland hurling champions and their immediate predecessors doesn’t make it the clash of the current All-Ireland champions and their likeliest successors, still less the clash of the two teams who’ll collide next September. The notion that “Oh, Cody will have something up his sleeve for Clare in 2014” presupposes that the counties will meet at the business end of the championship. That’s a possibility, yes, but nothing more. Not with eight teams out there capable of reaching the All-Ireland semi-finals and five if not six of them capable of reaching the final.

No, the human angle is the one the media will embrace tomorrow. Each team reflected through the prism of the manager. The man who is versus the man who was and who may very well be again.

Davy and his boys against the enduring benchmark, manager-wise and team-wise.

If Cody had ever assumed from their previous encounters that Davy, younger and shriller back then, was all hat and no cattle, the events of 2013 will have thoroughly disabused him of the belief.

For his part, Davy has consistently said all the right things about Cody, even revealing he sat in the front of the Hogan Stand at the 2011 All-Ireland final to observe the great man walk the line.

One thing Davy hasn’t publicly said is that he’d love to beat Cody’s Kilkenny in an All-Ireland final, and preferably beat them out the gate. It’s no leap to imagine it’s a flame that burns hard in his heart, though.

If the memory of the 2008 decider can never be eradicated, sending out a team to do to Kilkenny what Kilkenny did to Waterford that day — or to do even half of it — would be balm to his ever-restless soul.

In the short term he has one card in his hand that Cody doesn’t. Clare have extracted more players from the outfit beaten in the 2010 All-Ireland minor final — and the quarrying process isn’t finished yet — than Kilkenny have from the outfit that won it. Underage finals can be quirky like that. If one of these counties is to win, say, two of the next four All-Irelands, it’ll be Clare rather than Kilkenny who do so. Inarguable.

In that regard a recent soundbite from Brendan Bugler was encouraging. Instead of babbling about three in a rows he spoke merely about winning another All-Ireland under Davy. Very sensible and realistic; a semi-detached in a nice housing estate as opposed to a castle in the air. In one sense Clare’s All-Ireland triumph has fireproofed the manager. Where Bogart and Bergman always had Paris before the war, Davy will always have Croke Park in September 2013. In another sense it’s done nothing of the sort. Now he has to win All-Irelands every year with the same elan, or at any rate win them every couple of years.

Before he can do that, he has to prepare himself for a new dispensation this season. The Clare/Cork two-parter was all kinds of fun, largely because both sides were made for each other. I’ll play my game, you play yours. A glorious spectacle, sweeter than candy floss and at times as insubstantial. You think it went unnoticed that Clare gave up six goals to a Cork side that had hit the net once in four previous outings? There is an art to good defending as well as to good attacking The priority for all comers in 2014 will be change the terms of engagement and make Clare grind out the beat. Challengers will be more conscious of the need to close off space. Opposing half-back lines may drop 10 yards deeper to protect the full-back line and prevent a repetition of the fate visited on Cork in the replay. And Patrick Donnellan will most certainly not be allowed charge 50 yards through the heart of the enemy defence before handing off the dagger. We’re not in Kansas any more, Toto.

Cody has his own concerns, one self-inflicted after the hostage to fortune Cody gave away at Monday’s Glanbia gig when choosing to make an issue out of something that was a sublime non-issue.

Yellow card for a booking, red card for a sending off? They’ve been with us for what seems like forever. They’re uncontentious. They work. Nobody outside of Inistioge and Glen Rovers has a problem with them. Nor would the absence of cards have saved Henry against Cork last July; he’d still have been booked for first offence and dismissed for the second.

This was the doziest, most harmless of somnolent canines. Yet Cody kicked it, and very publicly. Incredible for a man normally so circumspect in his utterances.

The bizarre part of it is that Cody has been here before and it didn’t work out too well. This time back in 2005 he inveighed against the experimental rules introduced for that season’s league, a botched piece of work involving the automatic replacement of players who’d been booked that was quietly euthanised before long. But not before Cody unwittingly drew attention to his team’s Achilles heel — lazy, insufficiently-coached defending — and all but invited referees to take a microscope to it.

One referee did. Seamus Roche was notably unsympathetic to Kilkenny in the All Ireland semi-final the following August, Galway won and the chickens had come home to roost.

Plus ca change, plus c’est le meme Cody. The entire GAA world, including every ref in the land, knows it now after this channelling of his inner Alex Ferguson. Cody doesn’t want red and yellow cards. Why? Because his players give away too many frees? Maybe not, but that’s valid conclusion to draw. “Well, lads, let’s be sure we keep an even closer eye on Kilkenny’s defending this season, ha!”

Over the years Cody has spoken graciously in victory and generously in defeat. But occasionally a manager says it best when he says nothing at all. Last Monday should’ve been one of those occasions.

Brian v Davy championship record

1999 All-Ireland semi-final: Kilkenny 2-14 Clare 1-13

2002 All-Ireland final: Kilkenny 2-20 Clare 0-19

2004 All-Ireland quarter-final: Kilkenny 1-13 Clare 1-13

2004 All-Ireland quarter-final replay: Kilkenny 1-11 Clare 0-9

2006 All Ireland semi-final: Kilkenny 2-21 Clare 1-16

2008 All Ireland final: Kilkenny 3-30 Waterford 1-13

2009 All Ireland semi-final: Kilkenny 2-23 Waterford 3-15

2011 All Ireland semi-final: Kilkenny 2-19 Waterford 1-16

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