Roy Curtis on Brian Cody’s enduring legacy as a glorious era ends
the colossus of the kilkenny cats has claimed a unique place in hurling history
It FEELS like the end of forever, as unthinkable as a Newgrange’s neolithic magnificence as build-to-rent bijou apartments.
As jolting as shifting the Book of Kells from its Trinity plinth and deploying its pages as Burdock’s fish and chip wrapper.
The centrepiece of the Irish summer has removed himself from the portrait.
They have taken the Mona Lisa from the Louvre’s gallery walls.
For the first time in some 8,640 dawns, Brian Cody, eternal, abiding, awakes today as Kilkenny’s ex-manager. Irish sport’s most enduring listed building has chosen to take a wrecking ball to itself.
Stop all the clocks: The Celtic Ferguson, the Noreside Belichick, the father of the ancient game has taken his final bow on the Broadway stage.
Even though it was semi-expected, rumoured, the word on the grapevine, still seismic doesn’t do the official announcement justice.
It is epoch-changing. Is this how the dinosaurs felt in that split second before the meteorite hit and rained doom on their earthly imperium?
Images of the unbending, non-sympathetic, cold-eyed harvester of glory fill so many frames of our championship movie.
Beneath the pulled-tight baseball cap, the motors of his mind whir and rush, a bonfire of insatiable yearning.
A manager who seemed to contradict the fundamental laws of nature: The more he feasted, the hungrier he became; the greater he was feted, the more his antennae are alive to slight.
Until the end his competitive fury continued to char every blade of sideline grass that bore his footprint.
Ask Henry Shefflin, not even his greatest lieutenant immune to his one-eyed rage, the elemental requirement to win, control, dominate.
The alpha male consumed by a need to face down every other alpha male.
He was colour blind, his universe a two-tone black and amber.
On the sideline, Cody felt no urge to be reasonable or well-balanced. It was not always edifying but it was an essential part of his undeniable greatness.
Kilkenny’s welfare was the undiluted, irreducible scripture to which he was unwaveringly attached. Apple-cheeked, cold-eyed, he would fight, cajole, harry, confront, rage, tinker, reconfigure, gamble; whatever it took to win, whatever avenue he needed travel, he would never shirk.
Cody was timeless, thunderous, sharp, immune to fashion, magnificent.
Opponents came and went. Above them all, the ancient lord again towered.
He was on the wrong side of the scoreline last week, but in defeat against a Limerick team for the ages, Kilkenny were heroic.
A last stand that was a facsimile of all that preceded it: a Cody team being as good as they could be, leaving nothing behind.
Cody is 68, it is 48 years since he became a senior county man, yet there he was, ravenous and untamed, chasing victory like it was the last breath of oxygen in a spent, wheezing world.
Even after all the inhalations of glory, winning remained the vital component in the manufacture of his lifeblood.
A flesh and blood Zeus, delivering a rebuke to those who believe they must travel to Babylon or Giza to encounter an authentic wonder of the world.
Stepping into a theatre of war and emphasising yet again his worth to Kilkenny.
Cody is to this independent hurling republic what the oil-soaked desert bedrock is to Saudi Arabia: a precious resource, a source of wealth and identity, priceless.
Imagine if peak-era Cody, unrewarded financially, was a soccer man grazing in the Premier League Garden of Eden. What value would the great corporations of London and Manchester and Merseyside place upon his leadership and aura, his man-management, his bravery and intuition and indignation?
Cody’s band have feasted on 11 All-Irelands since 2000 – yet they forever resemble famished predators ferociously pursuing the first meal in so many weeks.
His players understood the moment they rested and settled, the instant they stopped to count their medals, they would be pitilessly evicted by a general who is immune to reputation.
As with many religions, Cody employs the afterlife as a weapon: to keep his players devout, he offers them a view of a hellish eternity without a county shirt.
He has perhaps only one genuine peer as a surgeon operating on the cancer of complacency.
It is not the lone characteristic which suggests he and a certain Scottish laird were dipped in the same DNA at birth, that he is, essentially, Alex Ferguson with a black and amber cap.
As a coach, Cody’s calling card was his intensity, his lust for confrontation, his unwillingness to back down.
Another quality became apparent as Kilkenny haemorrhaged the superstars of their dominant era. Cody continued to extract greatness from a team others deemed functional,the only manager over the last five seasons to better John Kiely in a knock-out championship game.
None of which is to remotely imply Cody is some new-age, wellness guru.
His tough, uncompromising old-school credentials were, when required, willingly unfurled.
There was something visceral, terrifying about his seething sideline confrontations. His ear bionically trained to detect insult, he morphed into a menacing cousin of Jack Nicholson in The Shining on hearing a stray syllable float across the sideline.
Cody understood his status, recognised its worth in influencing the most marginal decisions.
His fume and froth transferred by osmosis to his players.
Yes, they were sublimely talented, but their gifts are supplemented by a turbo-charged ache for glory.
Their hunger primed by a bonfire of insatiable fury.
Their world narrowed down to the dimensions demanded by the greatest and most able leader Irish sport has ever known.
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