You wouldn’t dare say Brian Cody is getting softer now in his 17th year as Kilkenny manager but he would do well to argue he’s not more understanding.
Why else would Michael Fennelly have been picked for the All-Ireland semi-final against Waterford when, by Cody’s own admission, he had done no hurling training?
John Power lost out as a result. Richie Hogan too was given up until the eve of that game to get himself right.
Oh how that liberty and the accommodation afforded to Fennelly paid off.
But Cody’s had to adapt this year. More allowances than usual have had to be made. He would contest the scant use of his bench compared to previous years isn’t a reflection of the squad at his disposal and yet the call to reintroduce Fennelly, plagued by back problems, seemed to go against all that we have heard about Kilkenny through Cody’s time: that teams are chosen on the basis of training.
“Well I mean you pick teams on training, you pick teams on what’s in front of you,” says Cody.
“He (Fennelly) had done very little hurling but he had trained. All any player can do is do what you’re capable of doing from an injury point of view or whatever else is stopping you. Injury was stopping him taking part in all the hurling sessions. He did a lot of physical training, running, gym work, all of that. He got himself to the stage,‘now, I can go, I can play’.
“He had an injury that was just so difficult to shake off and then you make a judgment call on what you see in front of you and how focused the player is, how ready the player is. It was just jumping out of him how focused he was and how ready he was. Had he the fitness levels to do it? He proved he had and that was the judgment call that was made because of those things.”
Hogan couldn’t walk on the Friday before the Waterford game but was more than fit to start as he proved. He was given special dispensation to travel to Dublin ahead of the rest of the players the day before the game to aid his recovery from a back problem. But he had only been injured the previous weekend so allowances are part and parcel of whatever is needed,” maintains Cody.
“You can call them allowances or judgment calls but you judge each situation on its merits and each player on his merits as well. The same way as you make a decision sometimes not to start a player, sometimes you make a decision to start a player and that’s the way it works out.
“Myself and the three lads (Michael Dempsey, James McGarry, Derek Lyng) pick the team. We are the only ones whose call is going to be tested.”
Cody knows about the theory that Kilkenny don’t have the same resources this year as they have done in previous All-Ireland-winning seasons. Across the two crucial Division 1A games against Clare, he used the bench on three occasions. In the Leinster final win over Galway, he used three substitutes. In beating Waterford, Power was the only used replacement and he came on in the 67th minute.
There is a lingering doubt about trust but Cody rejects it. “That’s the perception that’s out there. I wouldn’t agree with it all. We used a huge amount of players in the league, we had injuries around the clock almost. You take the last day — Jackie (Tyrrell) went, and the previous day, literally the day before the game, Michael Fennelly was ruled out.
“The Wexford game, literally two days before or the day before, Colin (Fennelly) was ruled out.
“That’s been part and parcel of it and our bench has been used. To be honest about it, Richie Power hasn’t been able to play, he’d obviously be a player considered a first-team player and rightly so.
“So the bench has been tested, the panel has been tested the whole time. I would have a huge confidence in our panel. Between now (and the All- Ireland final), I’d hate to see it from a player (that he was injured), I’d love to have everyone available, but regardless of what way it pans out, I will have a huge confidence in whoever will step in there.”
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