All-Ireland semi-finals are old hat to Brian Cody, Saturday being his 18th as Kilkenny manager. But this weekend is his first in three years, which might explain some levity at last week’s press event.
As one journalist struggled with his dictaphone, he joked he was nervous in Cody’s presence to which the great manager replied — “I realise that.”
Queried later if he took some succour last year from seeing Limerick go on from beating Kilkenny to win the All-Ireland final after 46 years, he deadpanned: “Well, I wasn’t wearing any colours on the day of the final or anything like that.”
Asked if he saw managerial potential in Laois boss Eddie Brennan during his playing days, he quipped: “Absolutely not.” As with every year, he would have expected his team to reach this point in the season but he is well aware few others shared his belief.
“There is no great expectation from Kilkenny this year, there hasn’t been from just about everybody I suppose, apart from ourselves.
“We don’t talk about what our ambitions are; every team has their own ambitions. But as regards expectation from the media or the wider public, we wouldn’t be mentioned in the list of contenders to try and be successful this year.”
As a management and a gaggle of players that have previously taken satisfaction from proving people wrong (example: The “Croker chokers” headline in early 2011) it’s not a stretch to claim they would glean plenty from not being considered for top honours. Not so, insists Cody.
“No, because it’s just a question of doing it for a particular reason not because someone else might have an opinion. All sportspeople or teams go to win for themselves. You can talk about other stuff all you like but at the end of the day, it’s how you apply yourself and how you think yourself.”
Former stars like Tommy Walsh have called for fans to be patient with this new Kilkenny team and Cody believes that has been the case
“I think the supporters have great appreciation that the standard of the game country-wide is massive.
“And the number of teams two or three months ago who would have been serious in their own heads about their chances of getting to the final this year, you’re talking about six, seven, eight. It’s down to four now and we’re one of them.”
Last August was the first time in his reign Cody wasn’t involved in successive finals. He insists it meant nothing to him on the day of the decider.
“I wouldn’t call it tough at all, I was at all the All-Ireland finals and all were great occasions. There’s no point in it having any kind of effect on you because if we were good enough to be out there, we’d be out there. We weren’t good enough to be out there, and that’s sport.
“So I had no sense that we should have been out there.”
After the Munster final, John Kiely baulked when it was put to him that Limerick were ‘Kilkenny-like’ in how they bulldozed Tipperary in the second half. Cody could perfectly understand why Kiely reacted as he did.
Why would they want to replicate anything from anyone else. You can talk about tactics and everything else but it depends on what players you have.
“Players dictate how you play the game and you can try to impose different things on different players but the way they play is outstanding and they don’t have to take anything from anybody because they have talent.
“They have a top-class management team obviously along with a terrific attitude on the field. They just go and play their game and I wouldn’t have even considered for one second that they would have taken anything from anybody, and certainly not from us.”
Reading Kiely’s comments yesterday, there’s clearly a mutual appreciation society between the managers and counties. Cody refers to Limerick’s Munster final display as “exceptional” and regards them as “the best team in the country.
“I’m not just saying it now, I said it at the start of the year.”
But there’s a strong school of belief Kilkenny would have beaten Limerick in last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final but for it being their third game in as many weeks after drawing the Leinster final.
“But that’s last year and it’s totally irrelevant now at this stage, everything changes,” reckons Cody. “We weren’t in the semi-final last year, we’re in it this year. They obviously went onto great things last year and that’s where it is right now.”
That nine-point trimming Limerick gave Kilkenny in Nowlan Park back in February might also factor in some analysis of Saturday’s meeting. “We weren’t competitive enough,” Cody recalled. “Up until 25 or 30 minutes there was very little in it and the last five minutes of the first half they hit us for two goals. We just weren’t able to get back and impose ourselves on that game. They were the better team definitely but that period of the match was crucial.”