Wow. I guess we heard rumours every single year, and the word was out in a big way last week, but in another, more mythical way, perhaps we thought this day would never come. There are a few certainties in life. Death, taxes, the ravens protecting the throne at the tower of London….and Brian Cody being the Bainisteoir of the Kilkenny senior hurling team.
He came into the job in November 1998. Let’s not forget, before he arrived, Kilkenny hurling team boss wasn’t the easy job he made it look. Kevin Fennelly only lasted one year. Nickey Brennan lasted 2 and left because the crowd in Nowlan Park had turned against him, and his own brother, who was playing on the team. But Cody came in with one express desire, as Tommy Walsh summarized in an incredible speech post the 09 All-Ireland final: “To create a spirit that will never be broken”. He did that and then a whole lot more.
Sure, for a lot of his time as manager, he had great players. There was a famous anecdote in Anthony Daly’s book where he confronted Cody in a row on the sideline with the words “Anyone could have won with those players Brian, they train themselves”. I guess, with the likes of Henry, DJ, Tommy and JJ, a half decent inter-county manager could have won a few All-Irelands in the 00’s. Yes, they were super players, but who else could have got Kilkenny four All-Irelands from 11 to 15? Remember, after 2010, Tipperary were supposed to take over, but they never put titles back to back. Galway didn’t beat Kilkenny in 2012 when they were 5 points up at half-time. Tipperary didn’t win when they had Kilkenny on the ropes in 2014. It was about the players, but it was also, for certain, about Cody and the unbreakable spirit that he had created.
And even given the 4 in a row, even given everything that he’s done, the performance in the All-Ireland final a week or so ago was up there with his greatest achievements. Realistically, on a player for player basis, I truly believe the team that Limerick put out in the All-Ireland final was, man for man, 10 points better than the team that Kilkenny put out. After they got the early goal, they could have ran away with it. Against another team. Against another manager. But the players fought to their dying breath, from the spirit that Cody instilled in them. If Kilkenny had won last Sunday, I’m of the opinion it would have been their greatest ever All-Ireland victory. It wouldn’t have been their greatest team. In fact, I daresay, it probably would have been the most average Kilkenny team that would have won an All-Ireland final. Yet I’m pretty certain it would have been the greatest team that Kilkenny had ever beaten in an All-Ireland.
And they nearly did it. They nearly did. They’re the only team over the last 5 years that has stopped the Limerick juggernaut. This Limerick team is absolutely one of the best hurling teams of all time, but they were halted in their tracks by Cody, and I’m sure that-coming into the last 10 minutes in that game-every Limerick supporter was in fear of their life that they would be pipped again. That’s because of the history of Kilkenny hurling. But inextricably, the history of Kilkenny hurling is linked to Cody. He won 4 All-Irelands as a player and 11-11-as a manager. He’s the biggest figure in Kilkenny hurling. He’s the biggest figure in hurling. No one, not Henry or DJ or Keher or whoever, really comes close.
And yes he was ruthless, and yes there are a few players who were cast aside a bit too quickly, and there may even be a few waiting in the wings who are glad he’s gone, but ask yourself the question: Could anyone else have achieve the success that he achieved? I really don’t think so. Could anyone else have got Kilkenny to within 2 points of Limerick last Sunday? I sincerely doubt it. Some were let go early, but it was all to do with the advancement of Kilkenny hurling, the success of the team. And boy, what success they had.
The talk will turn now to who will succeed him. Henry? DJ? Eddie Brennan? Derek Lyng? Whoever does, it’s a poisoned chalice. Let’s not forget how difficult it was for Manchester United to replace Alex Ferguson, for Arsenal to replace Arsene Wenger, for Meath football to replace Sean Boylan. Being in that position for that period of time creates a legacy, and that legacy is exceedingly difficult, nay impossible, to replicate. There are some of those guys, even David Herity or Michael Fennelly, who could come in and do a great job, but could they achieve what Cody achieved? No. They can try their best but realistically, no one will ever, ever come close. Thanks Brian.