comment The world swooned when Tiger Woods clinched his 14th Major, now we're rooting for 'underdog' Brian Cody
IT would, of course, amount to the last word in absurdity to declare that Brian Cody has mellowed, to suggest even the slightest thawing of a competitive edge as icy as the Antarctic.
No, for so long as the ruddy-cheeked Methuselah writes Kilkenny’s constitution, their black-and-amber uniform will come with a flinty, blue-collar tinge; and the minimum requirement of those outfitted in stripy battle fatigues will be to compete until the last breath with the elemental fury of men caught up in a life-or-death feud in the barrio.
But, if Galway were the latest to absorb the expensive life-lesson that Cody, even at 66, remains utterly faithful to a career conviction that insists success is built on the rock of honest toil and unbreakable will, still something felt palpably different in Croke Park on Saturday.
As Richie Hogan and TJ Reid, diamonds who may well be forever, made the old battleground their own, the neutral’s impulse went against the long established natural order.
We found ourselves rooting for Kilkenny, siding with Goliath, praying he dodged the slingshot, craving a bright new dawn for the empire on which, over more than a decade of crushing dominance, the sun seemed never to set.
That it is when the realisation struck: If Cody has not changed, if he remains unbending, magnificently cranky, incapable of confusing sport with romcom, maybe our attitude to the ancient game’s most relentless accumulator of glory has not so subtly altered.
Call it the Tiger Woods Law.
In his first sweep of power, as he ruled with the absolute authority of Caesar, impregnable, aloof, magnificent, cold, merciless, The Tiger was admired, feared and applauded.
But rarely loved.
Woods, as he pitilessly conquered the world and raced to 14 majors without ever opening the door to where his heart resides, was Achilles with a bulletproof heel.
And that godlike invincibility, his crushing of every uprising, the unleashing of a robotic, unbreakable Terminator, the absence of vulnerability, made it difficult – on a human level - to relate to The Tiger.
But then he fell from Olympus and everything changed.
His marriage was pulverised by his serial adultery; simultaneously, his body broke down, the king of the world reduced to a pathetic, ruptured figure, unable to walk, crawling across the floor of his empty, gated mansion.
Somehow, by sheer force of will, Woods found a way back. He hit rock bottom but declined to surrender.
It was only when the cloak of invincibility fell to reveal a flawed individual fighting heroically to reclaim old certainties that the planet was seduced.
When, 11 years on from his 14th major, he conquered Augusta last year, the world swooned. There was no reservoir on earth that could have held all the shed tears.
The story of Kilkenny under Cody comes without even a morsel of Tiger’s moral darkness or mental anguish, but, still, the parallel of a fallen titan seeking out old terrain holds.
First, there were those years of imperium – 11 All-Irelands between 2000 and 2015 – when Kilkenny’s suffocating subjugation of the rest of the field felt like an authoritative, but wearily-familiar State of the Union address.
Peak-era Kilkenny were relentless, magnificent, insatiable, a team that, time after time, delivered optimum performance in the most trying circumstances and on the most testing stage.
Absorbing Cody’s rock-hard competitive values, built in the likeness of their sideline colossus, Kilkenny were unbending, the greatest force hurling had known.
A by-word for a team that did not have surrender in their DNA, that would find a way to overcome impossible odds and, would, when they found the high ground, place a black-and-amber jackboot on their opponent’s throat and rumple them to a pulp.
The remorselessness that underpinned their greatness made them easy to admire and marvel at, but difficult to love.
All empires, even those constructed on the strongest foundations, eventually fall.
It is five years and counting since Kilkenny stood atop the mountain on which they once held an unbreakable lease.
They limped out of Croke Park on All-Ireland final day last year, blood-splattered and concussed, on the receiving end of a 14-point Tipperary punishment beating.
Cody had, by then, lost his officer class, Henry Shefflin, Tommy Walsh, JJ Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell, Eddie Brennan and Eoin Larkin. Granite warriors, men of rare substance and class who gave Kilkenny hurling a spirit and a meaning.
The easy thing for Cody would have been to go quietly into the night, as his competitive blood brother and fellow harvester of gold Alex Ferguson had in 2013.
It is so long since he accepted the keys of Kilkenny's kingdom that his arrival was heralded not on social media, but written by quill on ancient parchment.
Yet there he is, old enough to qualify for a bus pass, no longer overseeing the biggest or strongest or most gifted team, yet still immersed in the battle of his life. Imbuing a culture, finding a way to win.
That refusal to bend in the face of overwhelming odds, like an old champion prizefighter shipping some meaty haymakers yet fighting on, has recalibrated our relationship with his team.
Watching Hogan and Reid - with TJ celebrating his 33rd birthday today, the pair now boast a combined age of 65 - summon the old magic to cast a spell on Galway, stirred something primal in the blood.
Cody is contemptuous of popularity contests and will remain utterly unmoved by any new-found affection for his ways.
But how can anybody observe the ancient mariner sailing the championship seas, the same competitive fury in his eyes, and not feel a bone-deep stirring?
A 12th Cody All-Ireland, like the 15th Woods major, would represent his crowning achievement, dwarfing every chapter in his storied sporting life.
But more than that, it would feel entirely different. Kilkenny's old greybeard playing a role nobody could have imagined during the remorseless glory years.
Allow us to introduce Brian Cody as never before seen: People's Champion and Ambassador for the Underdog.
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