For the entirety of his reign, Kilkenny's king never did half measures

Cody’s 24-year reign of unprecedented success is at an end.

Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

DURING AN ALL too frequent fall down the YouTube rabbit hole, this writer recently stumbled across a clip of Brian Cody speaking at the Pendulum Summit, distilling his core philosophy down to a two-minute address. 

The talk was about standards. As a player and a manager, his were always sky high. Be the best you can be. 

“There is no point in talking about anything other than standards of excellence. Absolute excellence,” he declares with deliverance and demeanour only executable by a school teacher.

“No room for carelessness, no room for any kind of sloppiness. It is about standards of excellence all the time.

“To me, those standards must be set from the top. Go in there and set the tone. Set it seriously, absolutely and consistently. What do you do? You don’t pluck something out of the sky and say lads I have a fantastic idea. That is gimmicky and I don’t like gimmicks. Basically, you roll up your sleeves. You get down to work. You get in and do it well.” 

manager-brian-cody Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Any examples, Brian? 

“Things like time-keeping. If we are training in Nowlan Park at seven o’clock. I see it as my duty to be there ready to roll at six. From day one. That is the way it has to continue to be. It sends out a message to everyone. When I came in first it wasn’t like that. No point saying otherwise.

“Fellas arriving in ten to seven, tearing off clothes, throwing on boots, trying to get out on the field. We did away with that. We didn’t have to read the riot act, if we had to we could, but we didn’t have to. Because word spreads quickly.

“Players bought in because everyone wants to be part of a setup that allows them to be the best they can be.” 

Too straightforward? Perhaps. In one way it is basic advice. On the other hand, it is Cody’s law in a nutshell. This man without equal in the history of the GAA did so while always exuding simplicity. Why overcomplicate fundamental values? The talk was never the point. You had to walk the walk. There just was no alternative. 

A few years ago Tipperary coaching great and former National Hurling Director Paudie Butler sent two Antrim men down to a Kilkenny training before an All-Ireland final. They were to film it and report back with their findings. When they arrived at the Central Council meeting, it became clear they had a problem. There was nothing to report. Cody’s team did nothing unusual.

At the start of 2022, few predicted that this Kilkenny side were capable of reaching an All-Ireland final. There were whispers during the league that they might struggle to get out of Leinster. Cody did what Cody does. Squeeze every drop.

It is not that they were consistent clearing hurdles. Kilkenny were beaten twice in Leinster this year. Their magnificence lies in the fact that every time they were felled, the black and amber picked themselves up, dusted themselves down and went again. Full-blooded and head-first. 

brian-cody Source: INPHO

The James Stephen’s man oversaw 116 championship ties and they were never out. Their defiance defied logic. On one occasion in the 2022 decider, it felt like a video game glitch. Limerick are an awesome outfit from 1 to 15. On paper, there was a significant gap between the teams. At times their play was poles apart. Yet like the coconut crab their grip is substantial. Never let go, never give in. A culture created by Cody and sustained for decades.

Their manager was motivated by nothing other than seeing his county succeed. Even his definition of success was different. In a sitdown with Gay Byrne on the Meaning of Life, he was asked how much space did an All-Ireland final showing take up in his mind at the start of every campaign. 

“That is the lofty ambition but not getting there isn’t failure either,” Cody stressed.

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“We have been lucky in the sense that we have the possibility of a Sunday in September which is without a shadow of a doubt the aim. But as long as they are getting the maximum out of themselves, that is success without a trophy.” 

There is no doubt recent years have been the most difficult. Kilkenny’s dominance is no more. Cody’s last SHC meetings with Tipperary, Cork, Wexford, Waterford and Limerick were all defeats. The guard has changed. This is a new game. 

For all the justifiable tactical criticism, Cody’s perseverance amidst all of that emphasised hurling’s pillars. In a modern era filled with experts, relentless running, honesty of effort and winning your own ball still matter. 

As the county board statement said, his achievements would be the benchmark for hurling.

“On behalf of Kilkenny people everywhere, Kilkenny County Board extends sincere gratitude to Brian for his lifetime of contribution to the county and the commitment and passion he brought as a player and as manager working tirelessly, with the single aim to do what was best for Kilkenny hurling.”

Even his farewell was maximised. There was talk all week but the news breaking on a Saturday afternoon caught everyone on the hop. Some contenders to the throne are now in a tricky spot, it threatens to overshadow the All-Ireland football final.  

Would he have it any other way? The mantra always was no half-measure. Classic Cody. 

About the author:

Maurice Brosnan

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