Davy Fitzgerald keeping a watchful eye on great falconer Brian Cody

By way of an arresting intro I was hoping this morning to bring you exclusive news of Rich Ricci’s opinion of Davy Fitz and Brian Cody. Really. Just for the sake of it. Just by way of something different.

As it happens, the fat cat in the hat fetched up, sans headgear, in that splendid establishment, Powers of Clarecastle, last Sunday night week. The place was rockin’ following the Banner’s win against Tipperary, and after he paid due obeisance to the household gods – the Sparrow, Johnny Callinan and other such luminaries – talk turned not to racing or even hurling but to Gaelic football, specifically to Ricci’s experience of playing a few matches for Roscommon in Gaelic Park many moons ago during his New York incarnation and his gradual discovery that this was not a game for discerning adults of doubtful manliness.

That tale related, Ricci disappeared into the Dalcassian twilight, his opinion on Messrs Fitzgerald and Cody sadly unimparted. Still, given that Ricci is pally with another Kilkenny man who specialises in sending out not just winners but serial champions, we can agree he’d probably get on well with Cody.

(Today’s item of trivia: in winning the 1983 Foxhunters at Aintree on Atha Cliath, whose owner’s racing colours were black and amber stripes, Mr WP Mullins wore Brian Cody’s All Ireland captain’s winning shirt from Croke Park the previous September. So the story goes anyway.)

What Davy Fitz makes of Cody we know. He’s said it often enough. He’s been at respectful pains to hymn his praises and he’s been right to be at respectful pains. At this stage it’s become a rite of passage for other hurling managers to do so, along the lines of newcomers to the Premier League a few years back being almost contractually obliged to tip their hat to Alex Ferguson.

In Davy’s case it’s been more than a case of polite meaningless words about Sir Brian Cody, though. He’s spoken of how he ensured Pat Fitzgerald got him a seat in the Lower Hogan for the 2011 All-Ireland final so he could not so much watch the match as observe Cody.

Given that we mentioned Yeats a moment ago: studying the falconer, not the falcon.

Davy also took good care a fortnight ago not to get himself embroiled in the burning existential issue of the day, the great Functional Beyond Belief debate.

Again, nothing that common sense wouldn’t have told him. Even giants shorn of their old powers are not to be poked.

As for Cody’s opinion of Davy, try this. On February 16, 2014 Kilkenny travelled to Cusack Park for the league opener. They gave the new All-Ireland champions the respect of a guard of honour. Rather more interestingly, Cody gave Davy the respect of a reshuffled deck.

Conor Fogarty and Brian Kennedy in the corners, Paul Murphy at left-half back, Cillian Buckley and Padraig Walsh at midfield. All chosen for their pace. Cody had seen the way the wind had blown the previous summer. If Kilkenny were going to meet Clare in 2014 they weren’t going to be run off the field.

It didn’t get to that, yet the very fact that Cody was prepared to engage with what appeared at the time to be hurling’s new paradigm underlined his flexibility.

At the risk of beating the reader over the head with a point made here umpteen times in the past, the man couldn’t possibly have lasted this long if he wasn’t able to bend to the breeze without compromising his core beliefs. Clare’s Loughnane-era power game, Cork’s possession game, Tipperary’s 2009-10 attacking whirl, Clare’s 2013 touch-typing: he’s seen them all, raised them all and kept on winning.

Naturally it suits him to be seen as obdurate, unyielding, carved from granite. All the better with which to concentrate the next generation of young minds on training nights in Nowlan Park where a raised eyebrow can carry as much import as a raised voice. It is a virtuous, self-perpetuating cycle.

The MacCarthy Cup regained in 2014, he returned with a wry smile to one of his favourite subjects: the primacy of the basics. Hook, block, harry, hassle. The basics that don’t change, that weren’t changed by Clare’s triumph 12 months earlier and that never will change. Because they’re the basics, the building blocks, the nuts and bolts, the sine qua no. Wild horses wouldn’t drag him to name his favourite Kilkenny player of the age but it’s surely Henry Shefflin, primarily for the attitude and the subordination of ego. His favourite current player? Probably someone like Conor Fogarty. Does the grunt work and does it with quiet efficiency. That’s all the boss man ever asks for.

Tomorrow’s fixture is ideal for both counties. It spares Kilkenny yet another clash with Tipperary – there’s no percentage in that, as CJ Haughey might have said - and gives them a look at Clare ahead of the championship. It provides Clare with an opportunity to maintain their momentum and, even better, furnishes them with a close-up of the team to beat this summer and every summer.

Gaining promotion secured Davy’s main objective. Beating Limerick to do so added the gilt and beating Tipp shoved them miles into bonus territory. Darach Honan looks reborn while it’s interesting to see Aaron Shanagher, who’s no small man either, featuring.

Looking down the line to a potential championship clash with Kilkenny Clare will not be beaten for wristwork, first touch or fluency of movement. Overhead and the close-quarter exchanges constitute a very different matter. The presence of Shanagher suggests a more hardnosed approach this year. After all, Davy’s new sidekick hurled on a Cork team who were well able to take care of themselves.

Talking of whom... Dónal Óg has been the point man on the sideline on matchday recently, which makes sense; no use in confining him to the bench. One wouldn’t be surprised if he gives the oration in the dressing room tomorrow; makes plenty of sense too. He won’t be able to talk about dying for the saffron and blue but he’ll be able to give it socks about the imperative of sticking it to the evil striped empire.

Davy’s medium-term ambition? Win another All-Ireland, this time by beating Cody’s Kilkenny in the final. Every box ticked there. Cody’s medium-term ambition? Keep winning All-Irelands. Of course. Rich Ricci would approve.

PS.

Functional Beyond Belief. Ger Loughnane. What a line. What a man. In view of recent developments on the cryogenics front there has to be a way of preserving him, spirit as well as body, so that he’s still stirring it in 2116.


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