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Dublin: 13 °C Monday 6 July, 2020

'You pick the good points and try avoid the bad ones' - Cody apprentices looking to emulate the master

Former Kilkenny hurlers Eddie Brennan and David Herity were recently appointed managers of Laois and Kildare respectively.

BRIAN CODY IS the most successful hurling manager in the history of the All-Ireland senior hurling championship, having led Kilkenny to the Liam MacCarthy Cup on 11 occasions so far in his legendary career.

pjimage David Herity, Brian Cody and Eddie Brennan.

Having dominated the hurling landscape as players, it’s been no surprise to see many of his former stars embark on careers on the sideline after their playing days finished. 

Similar to the number of ex-Manchester United players who were inspired into management after working under Alex Ferguson, a host of former Kilkenny stars have started to dip their toes into coaching as they aim to put their leadership qualities into effect.

This off-season, Eddie Brennan and David Herity moved into senior inter-county management in the men’s game, taking charge of Laois and Kildare respectively. Herity has also recently been appointed as manager of the DIT Fitzgibbon Cup side, with former team-mate JJ Delaney as his assistant. 

Henry Shefflin has made management look as easy as he did playing. The 10-time All-Ireland winner led his native club Ballyhale Shamrocks to glory in Kilkenny and Leinster this season, with a tilt at the All-Ireland series to come in the New Year. 

Elsewhere Martin Comerford and Michael Kavanagh are part of the coaching set-up in Meath, PJ Ryan is part of Davy Fitzgerald’s ticket in Wexford, Michael Fennelly has recently been appointed as performance coach with the Kildare footballers and Derek Lyng and James McGarry are selectors under Cody with Kilkenny. 

McGarry was also joint manager as Ballhale won the All-Ireland in 2010 while PJ Delaney won a Carlow SHC crown as manager of St Mullin’s in 2016. DJ Carey has enjoyed considerable success with Carlow IT at Fitzgibbon level, as has Michael Rice with St Kieran’s College at various grades. Richie Power has recently started to cut his teeth with Waterford IT freshers.

Brian Cody with Derek Lyng and Michael Dempsey Kilkenny's manager Brian Cody with selectors Derek Lyng and Michael Dempsey. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“There’s a couple of the guys starting to dip their toes a little bit,” says Brennan.

“I think a lot of them have still continued to hurl, so over the next two or three years you’ll see if there’ll be more of them putting themselves in (to management positions).

“Maybe, it’s not for everyone either, they say good players don’t necessarily make good managers, and that’s the challenge. It appeals to me, so that’s why I’m taking on that challenge, I think there’s huge scope with the likes of a Laois.

“I certainly want to test myself as much as anything else, it’s out of your comfort zone, but that’s where it at. It does appeal to me to work with a group of players like that, and see can you do something with them.”

Herity has a busy couple of months ahead of him as he combines duties in Kildare and DIT. He’s one of three former Cats goalkeepers to move into coaching along with Ryan and McGarry.

“Different personalities enjoy the coaching side of things,” says Herity, who previously managed the Dublin camogie team for two years.

I know the likes of Jackie Tyrrell would have said before that when he finishes hurling he had very little interest in going back into coaching and management. Other lads have dedicated so many years of their own life to the GAA that they want to go back and explore different avenues and that’s fair enough.

Herity continues: “When you are playing in goal you spend a lot of the day looking at what’s going on out the field anyway. Who’s doing well, what’s working well, you’re nearly like a mini-manager because you spend most of your time just standing back looking at the play that’s going on and organising.

“It felt like a natural enough progression. I’ve said it before that I seemed a lot better at being able to manage other people than myself. If you were talking away to players who were injured, I was nearly better at telling them what they should do but yet if the same thing happened myself I was never able to take my own advice and rest when I needed to rest or take an evening off.

David Herity attempts to prevent the sliotar from going over the bar Herity attempts to stop the sliotar going over the bar during the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final against Limerick. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“It’s something I enjoy, I enjoy the organisation of it and trying to bring new standards to the whole thing as well and trying to raise the standards of your own game as a player and then other lads as a group. I enjoy that, just seeing that level of improvement you see within groups and players as well.

“I must say, even going with Kildare it’s great when you’re involved with such an enthusiastic bunch of lads that want to improve. That’s one thing we were always blessed with Kilkenny that numbers were never an issue, neither was lads’ motivations to turn up to training and give it absolutely everything and it’s just trying to bring that level of culture and that standard into other teams. So far so good with Kildare.”

Cody’s still might be described as old-school in the modern game, but his success is undeniable. In his autobiography, Tyrrell said that with Cody “you just knew you had to do things right, the way he wanted them done.”

He went on: “…roll up your sleeves, work hard, do your job properly, do it honestly, do it for your team-mates, for your future team-mates, for future generations.” Cody became known for his ruthless streak and for keeping his players at a distance, but he also allowed them make their own decisions on the field.

It helped foster leaders who didn’t need to look to the sideline for instructions when the game was going against them or something unexpected happened. In the 2012 All-Ireland final with the tide turning against the Cats, Shefflin moved himself from the full-forward line to centre-forward to help arrest the slide.

Both Brennan and Herity took pieces of Cody’s management style, but it was important to put their own stamp on things too. 

“You’d pick up certain elements from Brian and there’s also other managers that you’ve been involved with over the years,” says Herity. “You’d pick the good points and try avoid the bad points. You’re constantly learning from them.

Brian Cody looks on as the Kilkenny team photo is taken The master: Brian Cody. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“When I did start a few years ago with Dublin camogie, I kind of took a lot of points from Brian that I thought were the keys to his success, which clearly weren’t. I wouldn’t have spent a lot of time talking to the players, I would have thought that keeping your distance was the key to success and say very little and keep them guessing and so on. But you soon find out that people don’t like that.

“I didn’t like it as a player, they don’t like it. It doesn’t work for certain players. You are modelling it on certain things that he does. Then you realise as the year goes on and the more experience you get that certain things work and certain things don’t.

“Brian is an exceptional manager. He’s a fantastic motivator, it’s just his management style is something that probably doesn’t work with some of the other teams that are out there. Brian’s (method of motivating) would have been the stick.

“Thankfully over the last few years I’ve decided to see that the carrot side of things, you can get just as much benefit from it as well. It’s just trying to find a fine balance between both of them, I suppose.”

Brennan says: “You’re lucky that you’re exposed to that as. People are often fierce curious about his style, about what goes on, if you could see how simplistic and straightforward Brian Cody’s approach has been, for me, it’s about the basics, if you bring that alone, that’s the starting point.

“Obviously, you can put your own spin on things and what you see as important things, you have to be your own man too. That’s probably the challenge there, can you add little bits, what did you learn from that?”

Their coaching influences come from other areas other than Cody. Herity is keen to stress how closely he’s worked with Michael O’Grady, who was his mentor during his time with Dublin. 

“He’s someone that I would have rang and still ring on a frequent basis after a match and just bounce ideas off him and get knowledge from him as to what he thinks is the right thing to do. He’s pretty much been coaching for 50 years of his life and he’s been more of a role model for myself over the last number of years as a manager than I suppose Brian would have been.”

David Herity David Herity was in charge of Dublin camogie team for two seasons. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

They’ve looked to other sports too. Since his playing days, Brennan devoured books by athletes and coaches in a range of fields. 

“I would have read a hell of a lot of books when I was young, even through my playing days,” says Brennan.

“It’s just looking for one sentence, just something that you might latch onto, it’s not a case of, well, I go along and pull seven or eight nuggets and then that’s going to be my philosophy, it’s just like, I can see the relevance of that, and it just might be useful in a team talk or a run up to a match one day. Just that one sentence or that one key point that you’re trying to get across.

“In Alex Ferguson’s book, on leadership, one of the things he said is that, as a manager, you have to look what you’re seeing and what you’re hearing on the training field,” he adds. 

“It’s little things like that, and from a book, a lot of people might see that as being a little left-field, but, you know, John Leonard, the Dublin goalkeeper, in his book, there’s one sentence where he says, at inter-county level, to be an inter-county player, there are no excuses. That, to me, in the context of an amateur sport, it is where it’s at, and it probably covers sport across all spectrum, you’re either in or out.

“I know a professional sport is completely different to an amateur sport, because guys have lives to live outside of that, maybe it’s not for everybody. But, I think that line is so true of the modern inter-county player. There are no excuses, you have to be so committed. The key to that is that you’re at ease doing that, you’re not burdened to make choices.”

Herity uses the time he spends commuting to training and games to work through books via the Audible app on his phone. Michael Jordan’s autobiography is the current subject, while Pep Guardiola is next in line.

“I’d often say to the players, you don’t complete hurling and you don’t complete it as a manager either,” says Herity. “At the moment I’m reading away Michael Jordan’s book, I’ve Audible it’s a great app.

Imago 19970318 Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan. Source: Imago/PA Images

“Especially when you’re driving up and down to training, you throw it on and you’re just listening away to different approaches that managers take. A book I thought that was absolutely brilliant was The Pressure Principle by Dr David Alred.

“He would have trained and coached everyone from dolphins the physical animals, right up to Johnny Wilkinson and the English rugby team and soccer team as well. His whole different approach to coaching, the importance of language is something that jumped out hugely. How you speak to the players, giving them feedback and so on.

“You’re constantly learning as well and it’s great listening to different podcasts as well. The app I have Audible is pretty much full up with different books. Pep Guardiola is another one I’ve just downloaded recently and I’ll be getting stuck into fairly soon. You’re constantly looking for small little nuggets everywhere, trying to improve your own performance.

After a while, if you’re saying the same thing…there are core elements and that’s what Brian was brilliant at. There are core things you stick to, your core principles. After that, you just need to keep the same key message but just change how you say it. That’s why it’s brilliant, even reading articles from different managers and what they’re saying, it’s brilliant.”

Herity only retired from the inter-county game in 2014, after a career that delivered five All-Ireland senior medals in seven years on the Kilkenny panel. He’s previously spoken about seeking out the GPA’s counselling service in his final season after a persistent hip injury proved too difficult to cope with.

“You have to make sure the players are being listened to as well and that they have a voice and someone to speak to about their own personal issues and what’s going on in their own lives,” the Lilywhites boss says.

“It’s probably one of the pluses that I have in my corner is the fact that I’m only out of the game itself about four years, that you know the kind of demands that are on players. You know how stressful it is. Obviously, even the whole social media side of things as well is a different ball game.

It’s just dealing with injuries, you can see certain lads that desperately want to play but are just not in the right frame of mind and they shouldn’t be playing and they should be just told fairly directly to just not train tonight.

“If you’re sick, just stay away from it, just go home. And lads want to be managed that way. I just know from my own playing days, I would have just loved at different times if someone told me, ‘Just don’t tog out tonight, just go home.’ It’ll be better off rather than leaving it up to the player, because the player is always going to want to play, it’s not always to the betterment of themselves as well. 

“You have to be mindful as well, lads have college exams and anxiety around that, family issues, there’s an awful amount that’s going on in a young player’s life nowadays. That’s why it’s vital you have that leadership group because they might say it to one of the leaders and they at least can say it back to the management

“They may be a bit more comfortable saying it to a fellow player rather than going straight to the manager, so at least it’s great to have that element of it within a group that there is someone they can talk to if they need to.”

Eddie Brennan Former Kilkenny U21 boss Eddie Brennan. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Brennan’s Laois could run into Cody on the sideline this season if they make a league quarter-final, meaning a reunion with his old boss. 

“In a way, you’re hoping that that won’t happen, in some regards. But, at the same time, you enlist, you soldier, it’s as simple as that. If it happens, it happens, and that’s just the nature of it.

“I don’t know what it’d be like to have him staring down the sideline at you, it was bad enough having him staring across the pitch at you when you weren’t performing!” he laughs.

“Look, I suppose where we’re tucked in at the moment, the only way that might happen is if you were to qualify for a league quarter final, you might run into them, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

After being schooled by one of the game’s greatest minds, the apprentices are now looking to emulate the master’s influence on the sideline. 

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Kevin O'Brien

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