The 11-time All-Ireland winning manager returns for a 19th campaign at the helm in Kilkenny. A few question remain...
1. Bowie gone. Prince gone. Leonard Cohen gone. Obama going. Cody still here. Should we be surprised?
Of course not. The penny surely dropped long ago with people. This is who Brian Cody is and this is what he does. As long as the celestial fire continues to burn within he’ll continue to be Kilkenny manager. Anyway, you don’t really think after all these years Elsie suddenly wants him hanging around the house and getting under her feet, do you?
2. He was ratified at the county board meeting the other night without having to explain himself. Is this healthy?
A Q&A session involving Cody and the delegates would have been interesting alright. “How come you never changed the full-back line in the All-Ireland final?” and so on. But if he’s still manager in three years’ time and Kilkenny have been overtaken by the likes of Waterford the natives will be restless. In that case, he’ll hardly keep being nodded through indefinitely.
3. How did the rumours he was going to change his backroom team for 2017 arise?
Look, you know the way rumours do the rounds. But Mick Dempsey, James McGarry and Derek Lyng are clearly happy to return. One wonders if they demanded a clause to the effect Kilkenny are a bit quicker about making switches next year...
4. In retrospect, were there any valid excuses for the failure in the All-Ireland final — apart from Tipperary being so good, obviously?
Cody didn’t make any excuses in defeat, he never does, but the loss of Michael Fennelly was a monster blow. He would have added something going forward while his presence in front of the half-back line would have compressed the defence and eliminated some, though not all, of the gaps that Tipp punished so ruthlessly.
5. Any other excuses?
Yes. Consider this list. David Herity, Jackie Tyrrell, Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan, JJ Delaney, Michael Fennelly, Michael Rice, Henry Shefflin, Ger Aylward, Aidan Fogarty, Richie Power.
That is two-thirds of an All-Ireland-winning team, none of whom lined out at Croke Park in September (granted, Tyrrell wasn’t chosen). Correction: that is two-thirds of a multiple All-Ireland-winning team, and each of those players had been available for selection as recently as two years ago. Such a wealth of corporate memory gone, almost at a swoop.
6. So you’re saying that the hurling world overlooked the big picture on Noreside this year?
Exactly. In view of the gradual ravaging of their playing pool Kilkenny’s achievement in reaching a third consecutive All-Ireland final was considerable. We assumed it was business as usual; we were wrong. They were fooling us, right up to September 4th. They’d bluffed us into believing that, while they’d lost a swathe of players, the inevitable consequent decline wasn’t significant. The All-Ireland final proved otherwise.
7. Old Mother Cody’s cupboard was bare?
You said it. A fridge which had been running low for the past couple of seasons was empty. So Cody had Jonjo Farrell and Mark Bergin making their championship debuts at the age of 27 and Kevin Kelly making his first championship start in an All-Ireland final. Undesirable but unavoidable.
7. Hence the manager’s inactivity in the second-half?
Yes. He simply didn’t trust his bench. He needed to make changes in the half-forward line – the Tipperary half-back line was the springboard for victory – as much as he needed to make them in the full-back line. While doing nothing wasn’t an option, this was a systems failure on a grand scale.
8. At the homecoming in Nowlan Park, the manager declared there was a lot of exciting young talent in the county that supporters would soon be seeing. Really?
The Kilkenny U21s didn’t suggest great things are coming down the line, if that’s what you’re getting at.
9. The lads beaten by Westmeath?
Those lads, yes. Most of them were All-Ireland minor champions two years ago and could hardly have disimproved that much in the meantime. It’ll be interesting to see what Eddie Brennan has learned.
10. How big is the rebuilding job that awaits Cody?
Massive. The most extensive of his career. A complete spinal transplant is called for. Changes at 3, 4, 6, 8 or 9, 11 and 14.
This isn’t about adding an annexe or putting in new windows. It entails new foundations, pillars, roof, the works.
11. Cripes. How long will that take?
Realistically, three years. And hurlers don’t grow on trees. Not even on the banks of the Suir that etc.
12. What’s the most pressing necessity?
Finding either a centre- forward or a full-forward. TJ Reid and Richie Hogan can’t be asked to continue doing everything by themselves.
13. Was that why Reid didn’t win an All Star?
It contributed. Kilkenny ended up turning him into a one-man fire brigade, sending him to put out blazes at midfield, centre- forward, wing-forward, the full-forward line, anywhere.
14. The last time Kilkenny conceded a huge score in Croke Park — the 5-18 against Galway in 2005 — they came back and did the four in a row. Yes?
Yes. But in the winter of 2005 Kilkenny were more than halfway through the process of winning three All-Ireland UI21 titles in four years; had given championship debuts to Jackie Tyrrell, Eoin Larkin, Richie Power and Brian Hogan; and had Cha Fitzpatrick, Michael Rice and Michael Fennelly lurking in the wings. This isn’t the winter of 2005.
15. What can we expect in the National League next spring?
The return of both Ger Aylward, a 2015 All Star whose incisiveness was badly missed in attack this summer, and James Maher, who did well in the league before getting injured. Liam Blanchfield, who made his championship debut at 19 in the All-Ireland semi-final replay, will be a year older. It’s a start.
16. And before that?
The training schedule changes from season to season. This time around Kilkenny are likely to target the Walsh Cup in a way they haven’t for some years.
17. Cody’s likely opinion of their championship draw?
Oh, he’ll be delighted. The prospect of Davy Fitz’s Wexford in a Leinster semi-final at Wexford Park: perfect. That’ll get the juices flowing again. These are the challenges that keep the man alive.
18. Have new county champions O’Loughlin Gaels anything to offer Kilkenny?
Not a lot in the immediate future unless Brian Hogan and Martin Comerford build a time machine.
19. Lastly, how come he never changed the full-back line in the All Ireland final?
You’ll have to ask him yourself. Good luck with that one.
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