Plenty of magic left in the life of Brian

“Hurling is hurling.” Brian Cody didn’t need to say any more.

Plenty of magic left in the life of Brian


“Hurling is hurling.” Brian Cody didn’t need to say any more.

Seven weeks previously, Kilkenny had lost a first Championship game in Nowlan Park in 70 years.

A week later and they were relying on the wireless to confirm they had in fact qualified for a Leinster final, that Dublin hadn’t nobbled them on score difference.

Two weeks on and they were beaten in a Leinster final by a Leinster county for the first time in Cody’s reign, the first loss to Wexford at that stage since 1997.

A litany of undesirable records indeed, and it could have been worse.

It was a Lee Chin point that saved Wexford’s bacon in Wexford Park last month, but another point for the home team and Kilkenny were done.

Cody gives the distinct impression that he has no time for the hypotheticals, but he knew how Kilkenny were increasingly being regarded this summer.

Addressing the press media afterwards, he smiled: “There was no expectancy from anybody I’m sure here either, apart from maybe the lads there,” his reference to local Kilkenny journalists.

“And that’s understandable, I’m not trying to be smart by saying that, because I always feel that the All-Ireland champions are entitled to the respect of being favourites whenever they tog out again.”

Going into this semi-final, Kilkenny’s brand and reputation should have counted for more, though.

For all those close shaves earlier in the Championship, for that disappointing Division 1A campaign minus their Ballyhale Shamrocks quartet, most of us fell into that trap of underestimating Cody. And his team too. Putting five across the middle on Cork’s puck-out in the second half of the quarter-final was a masterful strategy, but it required the players to accomplish it.

The match intelligence of his half-back line was so good here too, their decisions when to follow and not follow the vaunted Limerick half-forwards proving pivotal.

“That’s tough, that’s challenging,” explained Cody. “That’s the way the game is being played by so many teams, but when you have the quality of the half-forward line that Limerick have, it becomes even more difficult, and the speed that the other lads come onto the ball as well.

“It’s challenging and you can plan for it, but putting it into practice and trying to get it right all the time is impossible in a lot of ways. It’s not just the half-back line looking after things but all the fellas outside of them as well. Hurling is now so fluid.”

Their four-week lay-off was evident in Limerick’s poor start and they had almost recovered from it by the break, going in 1-12 to 1-9 behind, but Kilkenny had more in reserve, going five up with an hour on the clock.

For the magnificence of Shane Dowling’s goal to cut the margin to two points four minutes later and David Reidy making it a one-point game in the 67th minute, for the unfairness of Darragh O’Donovan’s deflected sideline cut not resulting in a 65, a Limerick win or even extra time would have been more of an injustice.

Like Limerick in last year’s final, Kilkenny had been too good, and it wasn’t reflected on the scoreboard.

When they review this, Limerick should accept two poor sideline calls — an injured Declan Hannon remaining on the field too long and William O’Donoghue being replaced — but then their fundamentals left them too.

But for their full-forward line, they just didn’t work hard enough from the outset. Seamus Flanagan, a star of last year’s success, wasn’t used on Saturday and through a loss of form and injury his appearances this summer have been minimal.

But in the context of what has transpired since, his words earlier this year read as hubris.

“You know, people are saying that people can suss our game-plan — our game-plan is very hard to work out because it’s just work-rate, that’s all it is. It’s straight-up work-rate,” he remarked in January.

“Hooking, blocking, tackling. How do you create a game plan that can work against that? You can’t.

“All you can do is try to match our work-rate. We feel ourselves that no-one can match our work rate, if someone gives 100%, we give 110%.

“Once you always have more work rate, more hooks, more blocks, more possessions, then it’s hard to beat you.”

That claim came back to haunt Limerick on a couple of occasions in Munster this year, but here the statistics show they actually edged Kilkenny.

What let them down was making that graft count.

And then there were those wides, so many in the first half and a couple in the second — criminally poor.

In more elegantly diplomatic terms, John Kiely addressed that point afterwards when it was put to him that Kilkenny sustained their intensity throughout the match: “I don’t think they had a greater level of intensity than us throughout the whole game.

"There were phases of the game where we had the ascendancy with regard to the intensity and phases where they had the ascendancy.

"They got a greater outcome from their periods where they dominated than where we dominated.”

Kiely was right about the second quarter in particular when Limerick found their feet and Kilkenny, for 24 minutes, didn’t manage to score a point from play.

In that period though, Colin Fennelly’s goal did come in the 14th minute, a result of a long Eoin Murphy puck-out and the Kilkenny full-forward brushing off Seán Finn to bat the ball to the net.

A TJ Reid free followed and the Cats were nine up, only for Limerick to reply with three points in succession, each of them from their full-forward line, who were digging in.

Two further Reid frees followed, but then Limerick went on a 1-4 rampage, although that penalty goal in the first minute of additional time was charitable to Aaron Gillane.

Cody knew it too — “Tough penalty call? I would think so, definitely” — but how Huw Lawlor bounced back from conceding it to curb Gillane in the second half pleased his manager greatly: “I admire him and all the rest of the players as well.

“Huw is a player that you could always see the potential in but he has come on so much. He is completely a team player and every day he goes out, you know you’re getting absolutely everything that is in him. If things go against him, he won’t drop his head, he’ll keep going.”

A bit like Kilkenny under Brian Cody.

Scorers for Kilkenny: T.J. Reid (0-8, 7 frees, 1 sideline); C. Fennelly (1-3); A. Mullen (0-4); W. Walsh (0-2), J. Donnelly, P. Walsh, R. Hogan, J. Maher (0-1 each).

Scorers for Limerick: A. Gillane (1-9, 1-0 pen, 0-6 frees); S. Dowling (1-0); D. Byrnes (1 free, 1 65), G. Mulcahy (0-2 each); D. Reidy, B. Nash, P. Casey, T. Morrissey (0-1 each).

KILKENNY: E. Murphy; J. Holden, H. Lawlor, P. Murphy; C. Fogarty, P. Walsh, P. Deegan; C. Browne, R. Leahy; J. Donnelly, T.J. Reid (c), W. Walsh; A. Mullen, C. Fennelly, R. Hogan.

Subs for Kilkenny: C. Buckley for R. Leahy (34); B. Sheehan for R. Hogan (46); B. Ryan for J. Donnelly (52); C. Delaney for J. Holden (blood, 66-70); L. Blanchfield for C. Fennelly (64); J. Maher for C. Fogarty (67).

LIMERICK: N. Quaid; S. Finn, M. Casey, R. English; D. Byrnes, D. Hannon (c), D. Morrissey; C. Lynch, W. O’Donoghue; G. Hegarty, K. Hayes, T. Morrissey; P. Casey, A. Gillane, G. Mulcahy.

Subs for Limerick: B. Nash for D. Hannon (inj h-t); S. Dowling for G. Hegarty (56); D. O’Donovan for W. O’Donoghue (58); D. Reidy for T. Morrissey (64); P. Ryan for P. Casey (67).

Referee: A. Kelly (Galway).

Dalo's Hurling Podcast: Tipperary's defiance. Will Davy Fitz stay on? Kilkenny tactics. Cody's greatest semi-final victory?

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