The Brian Cody vs Henry Shefflin stare-down was like Michael kissing Fredo in The Godfather Part II
We can’t really know if there is bad blood between the Kilkenny greats, just from a handshake, but the fact he is managing a real threat to Cats’ ambitions could be seen as a betrayal
I was working in the gym late last year when I passed by a woman sitting in reception. As soon as she copped me, I could tell she fancied a chat. Big Dubs fans, she said. Has been all her life. Gutted about losing to Mayo.
Now I was fairly pissed off about it myself, to tell the truth, but I couldn’t get a word in edgeways – and that was only the start of it.
“Wasn’t it awful what had gone on?” she said.
Hmmm. That was when I knew I was in for a lesson.
At this point, I probably should have smiled and gone about the rest of my business, but curiosity is a funny thing.
“What was that?” I asked.
The big fallout between the players and Dessie. The toxic environment. The shoddy set-up. The row over the captaincy.
She wasn’t asking me. She was telling me.
It made no odds to her that I’d been there, in the same poisonous dressing-room she was describing and hadn’t experienced any of the many and varied atrocities of management she had presumably heard from someone else and accepted as fact.
Granted, I didn’t play much last year.
But this was like waking up from a coma and being told about the last eight months of my life as if I’d lived in a semi-conscious stupor.
My point here is that none of us knows what goes on in a dressing-room or between players and management at inter-county level.
We make assumptions based on results or performances or rumours or interviews, or in some cases, even handshakes.
Because sport is the real opiate of the masses. It’s our weekly soap opera (twice weekly if there’s decent Champions League on).
We love watching people run and jump and kick balls and do skilful things, but, equally, we love gossip and rumour and controversy.
And in the world of the GAA supporter, there is no currency more valuable than a bit of inside info.
The Roy Keane/Mick McCarthy analogy was an obvious one last weekend – but, for me, the Cody/Shefflin stare-off was more like that scene in The Godfather Part II, when Michael Corleone kisses his brother Fredo at a New Year’s Eve party in Havana and says he knows it was him who betrayed the family.
There’s a biblical quality to it.
The Keane/McCarthy photo depicts a player whose body language suggests he can’t really be bothered with his manager anymore.
The energy in the Cody/Shefflin handshake seems different.
Cody’s stare is icy, but the handshake had electricity surging through it.
Shefflin’s reaction, in the couple of seconds captured by the RTÉ cameras anyway, touches on confusion, hurt and defiance.
Whenever they make me a fully fledged professor of amateur psychology, the body language of Brian Cody and Henry Shefflin will be my first module.
Again, we know nothing of the tension between these men. Not even if there is any.
But if we take the handshake as evidence that it exists, then it’s not difficult to imagine the source.
Cody surely feels it’s hard enough to win All-Irelands these days, even with everyone in your county on the one side.
Much, much more difficult when one of your greatest pitches up with a major rival.
I have no evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, that this is the case. But my read of it from here is that Cody still feels he’s the best man to get the best out of Kilkenny – and anyone who might be able to contribute to that in whatever capacity, Shefflin included, should always put their county before their own ambitions or interests.
Which, in itself, is an interesting topic.
Shefflin has done as much for Kilkenny hurling as any figure (bar Cody) in the county’s history.
He owes nobody anything. He should be free to manage whoever he wants.
But it’s a different story when that team happens to be one of your own county’s main rivals.
That’s the real issue here. Did Cody take umbrage with Eddie Brennan going to Laois or David Herity in Kildare?
I know there’s Kerrymen dotted all over the inter-county coaching landscape in football. But have many (any?) of them been much of a threat to Kerry?
I laughed this week when someone sent me a passage from Páidí Ó Sé’s book dealing with losing to Kildare and Mick O’Dwyer in 1998.
“Dwyer didn’t give a fiddler’s f*** that it was Kerry. This was one of the best days in his life. Make no mistake about that. I know Dwyer, he was only too happy that it was Kerry.”
The other extreme was Limerick man Eamonn Cregan in 1994.
There’s an interview with him after the final whistle of Offaly’s amazing All-Ireland final comeback win over Limerick, where he looks devastated.
The saddest All-Ireland winning manager in history.
Limerick’s recent takeover of inter-county hurling has surely soothed that pain, but I wonder how long he carried that one around with him. Maybe it comes down to personality.
For me, I don’t have an issue with Dubs taking on coaching roles in other counties, but would I ever take a manager job outside Dublin? Not in a million years.
Not if I was banished from the county and told I’d never coach at any level with any team. There is no squad of players with enough potential, no amount of money, no car big enough that would force me into a ‘Bainisteoir’ bib of a different colour.
It’s not stoic patriotism. I just couldn’t do it.
That issue of county loyalty came up again when I read the interviews with Eugene Branagan of Kilcoo, but strictly not Down, football ‘fame’.
Having been asked into the county set-up, Branagan said he was too busy but then damned the Down panel as being full of people who didn’t know how to win.
“That’s the difference between Kilcoo and the county. That’s the problem for the Kilcoo players.”
He added that a change of manager might change his and his clubmates’ attitude to playing for Down.
I’m speaking from first-hand experience here, James McCartan was part of the Ballymun set-up last year, and he’s a bright man and an astute coach.
I’m not privy to the internal politics of Down football, but McCartan has two All-Ireland medals and managed the county to an All-Ireland final in 2010.
For Branagan to be saying he’ll only go in with the county if McCartan goes lacks even the most basic self-awareness. And it’s damaging to both Down and Kilcoo.
He comes across as self-entitled, as though winning an All-Ireland with his club put him above the common folk trying to improve the lot of the Down county team.
Worse was admitting he and his team-mates had slagged off the couple of Kilcoo players who had gone in with Down.
What an awful attitude.
Where’s the ambition? Where’s the love of the county? Where’s the sense of personal responsibility?
If you think there’s no winning mentality, go into the set-up and bring it, rather than sitting in the shadows slagging everyone else off.
Branagan also said that within Kilcoo there’s a sense that the rest of the county is “on their backs”.
If they weren’t before, they are now.
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