The relentless drive of Brian Cody has not dimmed as the 2014 season approaches
Lose the first two games in what would turn out to be the most competitive and cutthroat league ever played, staring relegation in the face, turn it around to not just stay in the top division but actually win the damned thing. Lose to the eventual Leinster champions after a replay in the semi-final, recover in the qualifiers to beat Tipperary in what was one of the great championship occasions of any era, then beat Waterford just a week later before eventually falling to All-Ireland finalists Cork in the quarter-final after having hurling’s best player of this generation unjustly sent off at the end of the first half.
All this while suffering the loss of marquee player after marquee player, juggling with injuries, suspensions, transitions.
For any other manager over any other team, at the end of such a season there would be a certain amount of satisfaction, a job well done in the face of massive odds. But Brian Cody isn’t just any other manager and Kilkenny aren’t any other team.
“You could look on it that way, fair enough, but if we look at it like that, then we’re losing sight of the reality of sport,” Cody said.
“What we faced this year was that reality as applied to hurling, all those realities that can hit you in any season at any time. You get injuries, suspensions, we’ve faced all that before. It’s part and parcel of what you do, you can’t ever use them as an excuse. There are always reasons why you’re not successful — we weren’t successful.
“You could make the point that considering everything, we did reasonably well, or however you want to put it, but that wasn’t the plan. The plan this year — as it is every year — was to be successful; we weren’t.
“I don’t think it would be either wise or sensible to be accepting of what we did this year. We had a team on the field every single day, we always started with 15 players, like everyone else, and those things that arise like injuries and so on, they’re just part and parcel of everybody’s experience as a team. We’re not exceptional in that respect.
“They happened, they were dealt with, and we’re not looking back with any sense of satisfaction of how we fared.”
Alright, they always started with 15 but against Cork in that quarter-final they didn’t finish like that, and the red card for Henry Shefflin was subsequently rescinded. A factor, surely?
“It’s done and dusted, it’s gone, but I was aware at the time and absolutely certain what was done shouldn’t have been done. The decision [to send Henry off] was wrong, no doubt about that anymore, that was accepted afterwards, but at the time it happens you have to deal with it, that’s all.”
Uncompromising, that’s Cody, unyielding, unbending in the quest for success. There is only one barometer — the All-Ireland title, that is the standard and nine times in the past 14 seasons his Kilkenny have been the standard-bearers.
Now it’s Clare, a new team and a new standard again.
“They were excellent this year, their hurling was very good. They should have beaten us in the league in Cusack Park, there’s no doubt about that, we were very, very lucky to win that one.
“They had more than enough possession, should have won quite easily. We were not convincing that day at all, from the point of view of possession and everything else, they were on top. It was a fantastic achievement to win the All-Ireland with a very young team. The ages of some of those players, yet they played so well. The drawn All-Ireland final, when they went a point down in injury-time, that point [by corner-back Domhnall O’Donovan] to draw it was really excellent. If that’s an indication of what they have within their team, that ability to stay cool and just respond like that, for any individual to do something like that...
“They went on then the second day and did what they did. They have all the credentials, went on then to win the U21 as well and again, they were just superior, as they were last year also at U21. That’s an indication of the strength in depth they have. It appears like they are in pole position to dominate, most definitely.”
He could have opted out this year and sailed off into the sunset and left the field to the newcomers, his legend secure. As he pondered his options though in the months after Kilkenny’s exit, the Cody legacy didn’t even feature in his thinking.
Neither did the hours it takes, the sacrifices made. There was one thing on his mind, one thing only — the good of Kilkenny hurling. On his own continued participation, no second thoughts.
“No, because the moment you start to have second thoughts is the moment you leave, that’s the time to go because you’re telling yourself it’s time to stop.
“If there are any second thoughts just leave, that’s it. I don’t see it as a burden anyway, and never did. You could start counting hours and minutes and all that and end up saying ‘My God, that’s a lot!’ but sure I mean it’s what we do, it’s what you have to do to get the job done.
“Nobody forces me to do this, it’s something I choose to do and if you do take it on, you do whatever has to be done. There’s a great challenge in it, great excitement around it. It’s something you bring with you during the day alright, in the back of your head, but you have to prioritise your work, that comes first.
“You just find the space to fit it into your life, if you’re fortunate enough to have a life into which it can fit.”
He finds that time, he makes that commitment and continues this quest with that relentless drive and hurling — Kilkenny particularly — is all the better for it. He could be a little more forgiving of himself, a little less demanding, but if he were, would he have achieved what he has achieved? Would Kilkenny?
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