Brian Cody has never sought to overly complicate matters. Whatever about the tactical nuances he may attempt to implement or, indeed counter, the Kilkenny manager is fully aware that any game-plan must be built on the non-negotiables of spirit, honesty, character and work-rate.
Kilkenny’s intensity was off the charts in the opening 17 minutes of Saturday’s semi-final, typified by the four black and amber shirts which swallowed Tom Morrissey whole 10 minutes in. Hemmed in on the Hogan Stand side, Adrian Mullen pickpocketed the Limerick forward before sending the ball sailing between the posts for their sixth point.
Shortly after, two Kilkenny players got themselves in the way of a Richie English pass out of defence, while TJ Reid charged down an attempted Kyle Hayes clearance.
When asked how he gets his players to that level of anger, indignation, and energy, Cody’s reply was that “it’s either in a fella or it’s not”.
He elaborated: “You can’t send fellas out there that you know in your heart and soul are never going to be able to do that. The basic thing is you go out with total honesty. Essentially, they’re in the county panel because they’re well able to hurl and have plenty of skill. And then it’s the application they bring, the honesty they bring, and the sense of team they bring.
“It was a question [on Saturday] of everybody applying themselves to whatever responsibility they had. All the players took responsibility because, individually, all the Limerick players are capable and give great leadership. We had that in abundance throughout the field and had there been any slackness from anybody, it was going to be damaging for us given the way the game went.
“Limerick got a goal very, very late in the first-half and very late in the second-half. That sets you back and you need a response. After the first goal, we went straight up and got a point. That’s a serious thing to do. Then, near the end, it’s a question of grind it out, grind it out, and keep it going. It’s a great tribute to the players that they did that.”
Cody, who will lead Kilkenny into a 17th All-Ireland final as manager next month, was particularly impressed by the contributions of the inexperienced trio of Conor Browne (23), Huw Lawlor (23), and Adrian Mullen (20). Midfielder Browne was making just his second championship appearance of the summer, while Mullen finished as their second top-scorer from play. The latter’s 0-4 tally included a crucial effort on the hour mark which he got away as half the Limerick defence closed in.
“They have settled in very well as it’s a big ask,” Cody remarked.
“It’s about your character but it’s also about your ability to bring yourself to the field and play the game. And have the nerve to do it. Nerve is hugely important. Your head dictates so much about what happens out there and the lads are doing very well. The three lads had huge jobs to do and huge competition to face but they took it on manfully.”
Whatever about Limerick suffering from not having had any game in four weeks, Cody didn’t need telling how much his charges benefited from their quarter-final outing against Cork.
“From our point of view, the match certainly helped us. That was a really serious game under our belts two weeks ago, massively competitive, and up here as well, which didn’t do us any harm.
“We started very well here and our first 15 minutes were really, really good. That stood to us in the end because every score we got counted. The prize is huge — getting to the All-Ireland final.
“There was no expectancy from anybody. And that’s understandable. To finish ahead at the final whistle is massively satisfying.
“It’ll be very easy to be in Croke Park [on Sunday] to watch the other semi. That’s a lovely day always when you know you’re in [the final].”
A day Cody is all too familiar with.