Cody's Cats still top dogs in hunt for All Ireland
If Sisyphus was alive today and seeking a futile existence, he might take his giant boulder to the foot of Mount Cody..
And start to roll the rock upwards to the summit…
Soon he would be lost to madness, broken by the frustration of having the stone inch skyward only to mockingly tumble, time and again, with glory in sight, back to his blistered feet.
His descendants long ago scattered to Tipperary and Cork, Clare and Waterford, Galway and Limerick, to assume the maddening fate of the long interred Greek king.
Since 2000 gravity and an insatiable apple-cheeked genius have time and again sent their boulder tumbling back to base camp.
Persuading the sun to set permanently on Kilkenny’s dynastic empire is the contemporary, back and spirit-breaking equivalent of rolling that stone toward the heavens…
Only to see it spiral back to where the eternal journey began.
Kilkenny under Brian Cody are a death squad pitilessly executing all hope, crushing ambition.
Since 2000, the shadow of the giant under which the chasing pack must cower has been cast in opaque black and amber. In that time, Kilkenny have won 11 All-Irelands.
Even other dominant franchises – Man United (8), Barcelona and The Los Angeles Lakers (7), Kerry (6) – are rendered tiny by this outrageous train of glory.
Twice in the past decade the Cats have won four out of five All-Irelands. For a fourth time in the Cody era they begin the summer in pursuit of a three-in-a-row.
Ger Loughnane – we suspect his quip was sauced with the condiment of mischief – recently deemed the sovereign stripey house “functional beyond belief”. But then, the atom-bomb was also a triumph of functionality: Its function, like Kilkenny’s, to destroy, to vaporise hope.
As Cody pointed out in response to his old college classmate’s roguish dig: “It’s a good starting point for any team to be functional I’d say. If you ever lose that asset, you become dysfunctional very, very quickly.”
Kilkenny, even after a tame league semi-final loss to Clare in which they were startlingly porous, remain rock-solid 7/4 All-Ireland favourites.
On the Paddy Power grid, Tipp (4/1), Clare (11/2), Waterford (13/2) and Galway (7/1) lead the chasing pack.
Clare’s cloudburst of semi-final scores (they hit Kilkenny for 4-22), had some commentators wondering if Davy Fitz had located the exposed heel of Achilles.
Even TJ Reid, Kilkenny’s liquidator-in-chief and Hurler of the Year, suggested the champs might have to ape the current tactical trend of employing a sweeper.
Cody, a long memory insulating him against panic, merely offered the world his enigmatic half-smile: “I must have a chat with TJ to see what he has in mind there. He’s a shrewd tactician I’d say all right.”
The fall of Rome was predicted when first Dublin (2011 league final) and then Galway (2012 Leinster) came racing down the Via Appia.
On the first occasion, the Cats were restricted to just eight scores and beaten by 12. On the latter, Galway raced into a 2-9 to 0-1 lead and seemed to be dancing on Kilkenny’s grave. Both summers ended with the Liam MacCarthy Cup on Cody’s sideboard.
And yet still there is an inescapable sense that Kilkenny – with so many retirements in recent times chipping away at their depth – might be unusually vulnerable.
Clare (champions ahead of their time in 2013 and with four U-21 titles in the past eight years offering a stacked conveyor-belt of talent) look best equipped to profit.
By adding Donal Óg Cusack to his coaching ticket, Davy Fitzgerald again illustrated the intelligence and receptiveness to new ideas his critics choose to ignore.
Tony Kelly, Conor McGrath, Shane O’Donnell, Colm Galvin and the happily restored Podge Collins offer a sunburst of attacking flair.
Waterford, their league final replay opponents this afternoon, are also spiralling upwards.
Their suffocating defensive system – tough on the eye, but the last word in pragmatism – has drawn comparisons with the claustrophobic intent of 2012 Donegal.
If last summer proved the league champs were a work in progress, the recent return to fitness of Maurice Shanahan and Pauric Mahony and the precocious gifts of Tadhg de Burca, Austin Gleeson and Colin Dunford make them legitimate challengers.
Tipp’s task is to silence the unkind accusations that their outrageously adept stick men – Callinan, Bubbles, the McGraths and the Mahers – have a soft centre.
Galway – after September’s second-half capitulation to Kilkenny and the overthrow of Anthony Cunningham – need to regain trust.
Cody, meanwhile, stands at the mountain top, imperious, wondering will Sisyphus ever learn.