Brian Cody is holding court in fitting surrounds, writes Brendan O’Brien.
The imposing portrait of another famed leader, Michael Collins, looks down on the gathering as he talks, the canons on the McKee Barracks parade ground beyond the window symbolic of the enviable weaponry he has brought to battle in times past.
It is 45 years now since he stepped up in rank as a player to the senior game and this is his 20th season as commander-in-chief. A remarkable achievement, it isn’t one he has dwelled on as he plans operations for the summer to come.
“People make a lot of it sometimes and wonder why you’re doing this and talk about the stresses and strains and all the other things that are supposed to be involved in it and I don’t see it like that at all. I don’t feel the stress of this thing.
“There’s a challenge and there’s a buzz, match days. The challenge is great, you’re exercising and you’re preparing for it, but it’s not stress. It’s enjoyment and, if it ever ceases to be enjoyment, then you’re better off getting out of it.”
He has heard the whispers outside camp. He knows that there were those questioning if the time had come for him to step aside.
Exiled from the All-Ireland series before the quarter-finals for the first time last year, Kilkenny looked like a side facing into a prolonged period of transition.
Cody couldn’t afford to think that way, he knew what he had to work with.
He’d seen the younger generation play hurling since their primary school days and he saw their commitment on a weekly basis.
So, the league title didn’t surprise him and not just because of the fresh ammunition available to him, but because of the manner in which the other counties were chopping and changing between personnel and formations. A phony war, if you will.
“I wouldn’t reflect on it too much,” he said.
The Kilkenny boss is a pillar of the game unweathered by time or events.
He has withstood the best efforts of countless challengers, changing rules, tweaked competition structures and a myriad of other alterations to life beyond the boundaries of hurling.
It’s why there was so much chat this spring about Kilkenny’s ‘new’ style. After years of in-your-face route one, people noticed a hint of subtlety to their approach; defenders leveraging the odd pass rather than lacing every single one.
Small stuff, but it made big waves.
“It’s like as if we weren’t able to play hurling before,” he said. “We were playing a game that was different altogether. We’ve had very good players over the years and our players have never been sent out to stick rigidly to a way of playing the game.”
There is, he said, “no masterplan”.
True, the game may be more tactical now than before but his implicit trust in his players and their instinct to do the right thing on the field of play as events unfold has never changed.
The game is still the game, even as the faces change.
Cody’s hand has been strengthened in that regard with the return to Ireland — and to training — of Paul Murphy and Colin Fennelly after their tours of duty in Lebanon with the Army, though Kevin Kelly is out of action for the foreseeable future with a knee problem.
The news on Richie Hogan is good-ish. A long-term absentee due to back problems, Hogan has played through the injury in recent years and the Kilkenny manager explained that, though he still hasn’t shaken it off, he is at a point where he can think about returning to the field of play.
“There’s no guarantees, but we’re hopeful. He was able to get involved in a bit of training just the other night for the first time, really. Genuinely, for the first time. Obviously, we’ll wait to see a reaction to that.”
The Leinster Championship round robin is Hogan’s latest target. As for the new structure, Cody seemed relaxed about the changes the extra games will entail. His take on the designated club month for April was more pointed, particularly its effects on the Kilkenny local scene.
The county had voted against the idea in the first place, contented as it was with how and when their own club championships were played and the fact that they could depend on the input of their county stars along the way.
“Every club would agree with that, because every club had a league championship where, in reality, there was a championship match every month — April, May, June — along the whole way,” said Cody.
As for Cody, he’ll soldier on. He always has.
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