“Me and Neil Young?” was Brian Cody’s wry reaction when asked after beating Cork last month would he be attending Young and Bob Dylan in Nowlan Park that night. Cody is an avid music fan but it’s known Bruce Springsteen is his man.
Inspired by his 18th All-Ireland final as senior manager of Kilkenny and the recently-released moviewhich features Springsteen’s music prominently, relates 18 lyrics by The Boss about the real boss:
In the build-up to Sunday’s game, Cody has spoken about how managing Kilkenny was never a goal of his. The thought of him never wearing the county bainisteoir top should be a perishing one for the Cats. James Stephens, he says, would have happily been the extent of his management dreams but it’s obvious he had much more to give.
Win or learn might be a phrase only coined in recent times but Cody has been doing it since 1999. He’s also won and learned at the same time but how Kilkenny have routinely thundered back after setbacks stands as testimony to their leader.
The story goes that when Eddie Brennan’s U21s lost to Westmeath a few years ago the first call Brennan got the next morning was from Cody telling him there were nice players on his team and Kilkenny don’t play nice players. The mental and physical toughness of his teams have been the iron fist in their velvet glove all these years.
Who can forget when Micheál Jacob brought the great man, standing behind the goal, to his knees in the 2004 Leinster semi-final? As he said himself last week, there’s a helplessness to being on the whitewash but in those sideline battles with other managers he’s not often been lost.
Before the five in a row was stopped, the three in a row was halted in 2004 when Kilkenny were left to rue a couple of goal opportunities going amiss but then they would have only been jabs at a dominant Cork.
Before Kilkenny training sessions went behind closed doors after the madness of 2010, the intensity of preparatory games inside the Cats’ lair astounded neutrals and pleased the partisan. Coming away from Nowlan Park those evenings, supporters couldn’t but believe in their team.
Nobody but nobody has been able to return his teams to terra firma like Cody. The importance of the ordinariness he speaks of regularly is never as more evident in those late winter/early spring months after All-Ireland successes when they have so often attacked the season like they’ve not won the Liam MacCarthy Cup for years.
After losing to Cork and Galway in successive seasons in the mid 2000s, Cody needed to take a scalpel to his team. The spirit that he had engendered to claim that two in a row in 2002 and ’03 was broken but as he proved far from obsolete as they embarked on a four in a row.
Whether it’s been through the front door — Kilkenny have gone through it 15 times to reach this stage — or via the one at the back — twice, 2012 and this season — Cody has more often than not found a way to the last two.
As if that seven-point win over Limerick in the 2007 All-Ireland final wasn’t enough, a year later the Cats hit their highest point with that 23-point destruction of Waterford. Beating Tipperary in a classic final the year later and Cody and his men ruled supreme and confirmed their status as the greatest ever.
A favourite line of a friend of ours who just happened to be standing 10 yards behind Cody at a Springsteen gig in the RDS in 2008. Cody has only been caught on the wrong side in finals four out of 17 times, twice to Cork (1999, 2004) and Tipperary (2010, ’16).
Earlier this week, Tommy Walsh spoke of the 2011 final win over Tipperary being the sweetest for him after they had denied him and the Cats the five-in-a-row the year before. Tipp had wounded them bad. Like Kerry after 1982, Cody’s Cats came back stronger after being denied an incomparable place in history, claiming four of the next All-Irelands but boy did 2010 hurt.
The 2013 All-Ireland qualifier at a heaving Nowlan Park was arguably the greatest backdoor game as Kilkenny lived for another day, beating a Tipperary team that lost Lar Corbett to a first-half hamstring. They lived for another two, in fact, but that quarter-final loss to Cork in Thurles spoiled that momentous occasion on the O’Loughlin Road.
He might have been warned about his language when he condemned Barry Kelly’s refereeing of the drawn All-Ireland final in 2014 but other than that and one or two more slaps across the wrists from the GAA authorities Cody has taken his lead from nobody.
For the first time in the history of the All- Ireland SHC, none of the four All-Ireland semi-finalists this year had 100% records, three of them having been beaten in a game - Kilkenny, Limerick and Tipperary. Indeed, Sunday is the first “losers” final. One set of broken heroes will be mended again on Sunday or in a replay.
If there was one season that really irritated Cody it was 2013 when Clare were considered to have revolutionised the game and the then 59-yearold had not moved with the times. Back-to-back Liam MacCarthy Cups in 2014 and ’15 and it was the rest who were playing catch-up once more.
Could apply to this Kilkenny team. Perhaps it’s a lyric more appropriate to the “functional” team, as described by Ger Loughnane, that claimed the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2015. They were hardly comparable to Cody’s glittering team of the mid to late 2000s but they were good enough.
The presence of Cody remains as imposing as ever. They say men gradually shrink an inch from the age of 30 to 70. The great man seems to have reversed biology.