All Ireland Hurling Final Preview: Hard work and heightened common sense keep Brian Cody on top of his game

All Ireland Hurling Final Preview: Hard work and heightened common sense keep Brian Cody on top of his game

“Patricia Whitaker, DNC chair. A rare example of someone whose head is in the game instead of up their backside. Competence is such an exotic bird in these woods that I appreciate it whenever I see it.”
Frank Underwood,
House of Cards

IMAGINE a world in which Brian Cody is not the colossus of hurling, it isn’t hard to do.

At the end of the 2005 championship Cork were All-Ireland champions having beaten Galway in the final. Galway, in turn, had outgunned Kilkenny in a shootout of a semi-final.

Kilkenny had also lost the 2004 final to Cork, quite convincingly, 0-17 to 0-8. So come the finish of the ’05 season the Rebels were very much the game’s kings with Kilkenny not even seen as princes in waiting.

Cork were scientific, tactical, a revolutionising force whereas Kilkenny were the old regime; venerable but perhaps out of step with the way the game was progressing.

Cody was by then only 51 but he’d been in charge on Noreside since late 1998 and had contested five All-Ireland finals, winning four. His last had been in 2003 and many observers saw that narrow victory over Cork as the high-water mark. And 2005 was not seen at the time as a low-water mark. The tide was still going out for Kilkenny, Cork were set to dominate for seasons to come.

If Kilkenny were going to compete they’d need a fresh approach and, perhaps, a new helmsman to steer the ship.

A great amount of people thought it was time for Cody to step aside. It’s fair to say that precisely nobody saw him staying and leading Kilkenny to the next four championships — and six of the next seven — becoming the sport’s most storied team in the process.

I remember following the story and thinking “please let Kilkenny be dumb enough to get rid of him”. But unfortunately for us from rival counties, Kilkenny did not become one of the game’s powerhouses by casting aside their best minds (that would be Cork).

In this parallel world where Cody walked or was pushed in 2005, he could well be a TV pundit now. And in this scenario I can guarantee that the conventional wisdom would be that he was cutting edge once but doesn’t understand the modern game. He’d be there next to Cyril Farrell and Ger Loughnane, giving his views while Twitter silently (okay, noisily) shakes its head.

The thing about Cody is that he manages by hard work and heightened common sense. So making a point that an attacking formation or a sweeper system or a third midfielder is of far secondary importance to a player’s touch and honesty of effort would set the number crunchers and whiteboard merchants into a spin.

Cody, you see, doesn’t talk much about tactics and that goes down badly with the array of tactical philosophers out there. To explain away his perennial success they’ll hit you with: “Kilkenny say they don’t do tactics, don’t believe a word of that.”

To be fair, they have a bit of a point. Kilkenny certainly do tactics. Their 2006 final pushing up on Cork and blocking the channels for their runners was a prime example of a gameplan executed perfectly.

They do of course plan for scenarios and for specific opponents but all that is secondary. What is primary for Kilkenny is the execution, not the plan. It’s not what they do, it’s the way that they do it.

What Kilkenny do under Cody is work hard and work smart. They work on their touch and being able to perform the game’s skills at blistering pace and under severe pressure.

Also, there is severe pressure on your place. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done before, if you are not performing to your full potential in the here and now then there is somebody else who will rip that shirt off your back. Hell, even if you are performing to your potential the next guy will take your place if he is playing better.

Some people call that ruthless, but surely it’s just being fair to all your players and true to the job you are trusted to do. Imagine if you were the fella in training outperforming Tommy Walsh but you can’t get a shot because Brian and Tommy go back a long way and Tommy has eight All-Ireland medals. You’d be right to feel cheated.

Under Cody nobody is cheated. You here all of his players say the same thing — he’ll give you a chance. What you do with that chance, well, that’s up to you.

It feels strange to be so far into an article about Cody without a “but” thrown in there.

You see, for many years, I’ve not really liked Cody. All those Tipperary and Cork fans who booed him when he appeared on the big screen, I can relate.

Some were having the craic, some were tired of his relentless success at their side’s expense, some believed his teams to be too physical, some believed him to be less than gentlemanly and dignified — his unsavoury hectoring of Marty Morrissey and bellowing into the back of Anthony Cunningham’s head are just two examples that come to mind.

There was a time when I would have booed along, for one or a combination of the above rationales. Today I would not do so.

I don’t know if it’s Stockholm syndrome or what, but I kind of like Cody now (I’m sure that he’ll be delighted and relieved to hear that!).

He has become a still point in a wildly spinning world. Whatever else happens in sport and life, there he is, putting out great team after great team, all the time downplaying his genius.

His genius is knowing what’s important and having the self-assurance to not deviate from his principles. That is rare.

I look at my own industry. I hear the need to be “platform neutral”, “platform passionate”, “platform integrated” … whatever all of these things mean. Nobody ever says “we need to get a bunch of good journalists and work hard to chase down some good stories”. Only a real hick would say that!

Sometimes you think, ‘wouldn’t it be great if Brian Cody was in charge?’ He would soon cut through the bluster. If you got a bollocking, at least it would be for the right reason.

I don’t know anything about his professional life, though I doubt any kid leaves his school not able to spell or recite their times tables because they spent too much time playing around with the online learning suite.

All this Cody-love is not to say that I hope he wins on Sunday. He has enough and I want Tipperary to do the business, thus preventing Kilkenny from disappearing further over the roll-of-honour horizon to my own county, Cork.

But when Cody’s cap and crimson cheeks fill the screen I won’t feel tempted to boo inside.

Some day, perhaps soon, he’ll step away from the game at this level and only then will we realise what we’ve lost: a man true to himself and at odds with the considerable forces of bullshit, whose means of defence was to beat everybody, time and again, until they couldn’t bear to look at him.