CODY’S GREATEST 15
This Sunday, Brian Cody initiates his 19th season in charge of the Kilkenny senior hurling team when his side begin their Walsh Cup campaign against DCU. During that time he has selected some 250 sides and no doubt the one he picks on Sunday will be vastly different to the last one that squared up in action in the All-Ireland final against Tipperary last September. But what has his best team been in that era?
Around 150 hurlers have been selected by Cody in his 19 years as manager, and picking the best 15 is an onerous task, but it’s something I’ve tried to do anyway. Would this team match yours? Let the great debate begin
1. James McGarry (Benettsbridge) 1999-2008
PJ Ryan and Eoin Murphy have been Kilkenny’s only goalkeeping All-Stars during the Cody era, yet it’s the man who preceded them who was probably the best. The eternal mystery about James McGarry is that Kilkenny struggled for years with goalkeepers before him, yet by the time he arrived on the scene he was already 27! Overlooked by his own county for years, he was under-rated by many during his prime, but though he often had little to do, when called upon he more often than not did it. Perhaps if he keeps up this year’s level of performance, Murphy could overtake him in the coming years, but for consistency and longevity McGarry takes the crown.
2. Paul Murphy (Danesfort) 2011-Present
Probably one of the toughest positions to pick on the field. Michael Kavanagh was an ever-present on the team from 1998-2009 and never let the side down during his tenure. Kilkenny were blessed to have him and yet, his successor, has arguably been superior. Strong, fast, and rarely beaten by an opponent, Paul Murphy is one of the most important players in Cody’s team at the moment, and has been for the last number of years. A leader and warrior. The ideal corner-back.
3. Noel Hickey (Dunnamaggin) 2000-2012
No question over this. After Pat O’Dwyer retired in 1996 the county really struggled to find an adequate replacement and instead tried to convert the likes of Canice Brennan and Pat O’Neill from their natural positions. When Hickey arrived on the scene as a prodigious 19 year old in 2000, all questions marks over the full back position were forgotten. Strong as an ox, commanding in the air and with a nice clip of the ball off either side, Hickey was the perfect fit at full back. During his time in the position it was noticeable how few goals were conceded, but during his absence, (2005 All-Ireland semi-final, 2009) the gaps appeared.
4. Jackie Tyrrell (James Stephens) 2003-2016
Yet again a fiercely contested position. Willie O’Connor was an iconic figure in Kilkenny hurling throughout the 90’s and was the first All-Ireland winning captain during Cody’s reign, but, due to his age, his time with the new manager was lamentably short. Kilkenny never fully replaced him for a number of years and when Jackie Tyrrell originally began there it was doubtful people believed he would. He wasn’t the most natural of corner-backs but through his strength, resilience and perseverance he grew into the position to the point where it was hard to imagine the Kilkenny side without him.
5. Tommy Walsh (Tullaroan) 2002-2014
The word “Cult hero” is over-used in the GAA, but for this man, no other terminology could apply. There was a time when it looked like he was going to play in every position, but from 2006 on, he made the right half back slot his own. Whether it was his size, impish grin or never say die attitude, there was something about the Tullaroan man that elevated him from being merely a top-class player, to one of the most loved to ever line out in a Kilkenny jersey. Every time he made one of those soaring catches and booming clearances in Nowlan Park or Croker, the crowd would erupt. Perhaps JJ Delaney was more efficient, but for pure theatre, Tommy trumped everyone.
6. Brian Hogan (O’Loughlin Gaels) 2004-2014
Not an underage star and underrated by many while he was there, but his importance became known when he wasn’t. A massive presence in the four in a row team and sorely missed in the 2010 final. He was a rock in defence when needed.
7. JJ Delaney (Fenians) 2001-2014
Whatever about being picked in Cody’s greatest team, if there was an All-Ireland team of the century pickedtomorrow, it’s odds on he would feature. A monster in the air. An artist with a stick. The tightest of markers. Strong in the corner or at full-back but left half back was his natural home. He was a good man to get a hook in too. Just ask Seamus Callanan! The perfect defender.
8. James “Cha” Fitzpatrick-(Ballyhale Shamrocks) 2004-2011
If you were to pick a greatest Kilkenny team based on longevity, he wouldn’t feature in it. Pick one on talent though, and he certainly would. Cha’s peak was short lived, but what a peak it was. In contrast to the grass eaters that came after, his style was more akin to Tommy Dunne or “Chunky” O’Brien. It’s not always about brawn or passion. More often than not it’s about quick wrists, timing and letting the ball do the work. A feile skills winner in his youth, he demonstrated all those talents in his all-too brief time at the top. A connoisseur’s hurler.
9. Michael Fennelly- (Ballyhale Shamrocks) 2006-Present
Great teams are about great combinations. While Cha Fitzpatrick was one of the most skillful hurlers Kilkenny ever produced, he would be the first to admit he wasn’t the strongest runner. It’s a good thing then, that the man beside him, certainly was. A machine of strength and speed, Fennelly was one of the most important players in Kilkenny’s All-Ireland triumphs in the 00’s and one of the most noticeable absentees when they failed. For those of us born in the 1980’s it’s lamentable we never got to see Frank Cummins in his prime. Looking at Fennelly at his peak though, it’s possible to say we have.
10. TJ Reid (Ballyhale Shamrocks) 2008-Present
It took a while in coming, and it’s only been since 2012 that he’s been a full time regular, but how he has produced during that time. One of the most talented stickmen Kilkenny have had, and a real leader, particularly in 2015 when he was a most deserved hurler of the year. Sometimes he plays in positions to satisfy the team to the detriment of his own game, but, is as important to Kilkenny in this decade as his clubmate Shefflin was in the last one.
11. Henry Shefflin (Ballyhale Shamrocks) 1999-2014
What can you say that hasn’t been said already? 10 All-Ireland medals (a record), 11 Allstars (a record), 3 Hurlers of the year. The best of all time? That’s for late night discussion in pubs. As fans, we are just lucky to appreciate what we’ve seen.
12. Eoin Larkin (James Stephens) 2005-2016
One of the most difficult positions to select on the field. Richie Power was one of the most talented forwards of his era. Martin Comerford was the most willing of workers and an underrated scorer. Aidan Fogarty too, was an able servant. But for consistency at the highest level Larkin trumps the others. Hurler of the year in 2008 his performance in the county final of 2011 will live long in the memory of anyone who ever witnessed it.
13. Eddie Brennan-(Graigue Ballycallan) 2000-2011
Not many people, lest of all he, thought he would make it when he was younger but when he was introduced to the senior set up in 2000, it quickly became apparent what he added: pace, pace and more pace. But he was more than that too. When Kilkenny needed a goal at vital times (2003 semi-final, 2007 and 2008 finals) he was the man to provide it. 26 three-pointers in 47 championship appearances tells its own story. Colin Fennelly has adequately replaced Eddie’s speed in the side. Finding a man to replicate his goal-scoring though, has proved elusive.
14. DJ Carey-(Young Irelands) 1989-2005
You could argue that DJ’s best years with Kilkenny were in the 90’s. Certainly the side were more dependent on him in that decade than they were during Cody’s time. But if the 1999 final was a personal disappointment for him, he atoned for it in the following seasons. In 2000 he was hurler of the year. He may have missed most of the season in 2002, but considering his impact in the semi-final and final, it’s highly doubtful the All-Ireland would have been won without him. Allied to that he was one of the greatest hurlers of all time. All things considered, he more than deserved his place in the team.
15. Richie Hogan-(Danesfort) 2007-Present
A bit like TJ Reid, he was overshadowed by others at the start of the decade, but has really come into his own in the last few years. An underage prodigy, it took him a couple of years to adapt fully to the rigours of senior inter-county, but how he has mastered it now. A wizard with the wrist, and deceptively good in the air for someone so small. Perhaps THE most important man in the current Kilkenny side.
16 Eoin Murphy (Glenmore) 2011-Present
17 Michael Kavanagh (St Lachtains) 1998-2011
18 Willie O’Connor (Glenmore) 1988-2000
19 Peter Barry (James Stephens) 1996-2005
20 Derek Lyng (Emeralds) 2001-2010
21 Aidan Fogarty (Emeralds) 2003-2014
22 Martin Comerford (O’Loughlin Gaels) 2002-2010
23. Richie Power (Carrickshock) 2005-2015