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cat's life Kilkenny boss Cody feeling the heat as last-chance saloon looms


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What’s another year: Brian Cody walks down the sideline during the closing stages of Kilkenny’s All-Ireland SHC semi-final loss to Waterford. Photo: Sportsfile

What’s another year: Brian Cody walks down the sideline during the closing stages of Kilkenny’s All-Ireland SHC semi-final loss to Waterford. Photo: Sportsfile

What’s another year: Brian Cody walks down the sideline during the closing stages of Kilkenny’s All-Ireland SHC semi-final loss to Waterford. Photo: Sportsfile

It was one of the first winters where there has been any hint of discontent in Kilkenny hurling circles and had it been a different year with more time to stew in the off-season, perhaps there would be a different face at the helm with the Cats.

With 16 Leinster crowns, 11 All-Ireland titles and nine league triumphs, there is little need for a reminder about the unrivalled managerial CV which Brian Cody possesses, but that hasn't stopped some dissenting voices surrounding his position.

They haven't exactly been shouting from the rooftops since a second-half collapse against Waterford cost them an All-Ireland final place, but privately there are many reservations about the direction which Kilkenny are taking under Cody.

Referred to as 'The Boss' by Kilkenny officials, Cody has overseen glory days that have him recognised as the greatest manager in GAA history, but there are many concerns from within his own ranks as he heads into his 23rd year in charge.

It's hard to get away from consistent talk of disconnect between many of the Cats and their master with the same wise words which hit home 10 years ago believed to lack the desired effect on many of the current crop.

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Kilkenny legend DJ Carey parted company with Cody’s management team since the defeat to Waterford. Photo: Sportsfile

Kilkenny legend DJ Carey parted company with Cody’s management team since the defeat to Waterford. Photo: Sportsfile

Kilkenny legend DJ Carey parted company with Cody’s management team since the defeat to Waterford. Photo: Sportsfile

It was often said that "Kilkenny don't do tactics" and while that far-fetched notion was anything but the case, the Cats do seem to have fallen well adrift in terms of modern hurling's complex demands, with the Waterford defeat a prime example.

Hurling has moved on, but Kilkenny haven't and there was little in the way of an answer when the Déise threw something different at them in a blistering closing period as they continued to go long with TJ Reid and John Donnelly barely keeping them afloat.

Eoin Murphy is one of the best goalkeepers around, but the absence of a goalkeeping coach seems to undermine his talents, which was highlighted by the archaic puck-out strategy of lumping it long as Waterford ripped them to shreds.

Cody has always downplayed such tactical nuances and highlighted the simplicity of the game, but many players have grown somewhat weary of the 'win your own ball' mantra as they get left behind strategically by many of the game's bigger hitters.

Repeated difficulties when facing non-traditional approaches like Wexford's sweeper system under Davy Fitzgerald have been a feature of recent seasons, while their aimless use of possession when down to 14 men in the 2019 All-Ireland final smacked of desperation. DJ Carey recently departed under a bit of a cloud after just one season as a selector/coach and it is understood that a player representation approached the county board about the lack of coaching in the set-up.

Some say that last year's comeback defeat of Galway to secure Leinster honours - as well as their sensational All-Ireland semi-final defeat of Limerick the previous year - papered over glaring deficiencies on Noreside.

With no All-Ireland success at senior level since 2015, no minor title in seven years and their last U-21/U-20 triumph stretching back to 2008, the conveyor belt is not comparable with squads which Cody previously oversaw and the same raw materials are not available to him.

Complacency may have set in at underage level over the last decade when success was still coming regularly at senior level with many former players questioning the quality of the county's development squads.

Limerick and others have upped the physical stakes through rigorous conditioning regimen at underage level with Kilkenny left tasting their dust, although Cody has never hidden his faith in the next generation.

"There are players on our panel who haven't been seen yet who will be top players - and quickly. You can be rest assured of that," he said defiantly in the wake of their heavy 2016 All-Ireland final loss to Tipperary.

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Talisman TJ Reid has been Kilkenny's go-to man but at 33, the Ballyhale dynamo is approaching the autumn of his career. Photo: Sportsfile

Talisman TJ Reid has been Kilkenny's go-to man but at 33, the Ballyhale dynamo is approaching the autumn of his career. Photo: Sportsfile

Talisman TJ Reid has been Kilkenny's go-to man but at 33, the Ballyhale dynamo is approaching the autumn of his career. Photo: Sportsfile

Aside from the emergence of 2019 Young Hurler of the Year Adrian Mullen, and Donnelly, that hasn't manifested, while the 66-year-old now has to connect with a different type of cohort, a generation that identifies with social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok.

Attributes

"To be honest, I haven't," Cody said when asked two years ago about whether he had changed his approach to young hurlers. "Young people may change or may not change, but to be successful in sport and to be successful in hurling, you have to have the attributes that are needed.

"You can't switch off from determination, application, honesty and ambition because if you do, all sport is diluted if that's the kind the players are and it's no longer worth being involved then. You can't change that."

When the brilliance of Reid departs the county scene, Kilkenny could get stuck in the pack and it will be intriguing to see if Cody leaves on his own terms or suffers a similar fate to other managerial greats like Seán Boylan and Mickey Harte.

It would be a shame if his glittering reign was tarnished in any way, but that will be a decision for the man himself and he'll be intent on making fools of the naysayers once again before that time eventually comes.

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