Cody's teacher-pupil approach to management
By John Harrington
When Kieran Joyce recalls the day last year he met with Kilkenny manager Brian Cody for a chat that ultimately ended his inter-county career, he describes it as “a fairly short conversation”.
Joyce asked was there any chance he’d be further up the pecking order for selection in 2018 than he had been in 2017, and Cody replied the situation was unlikely to change.
After that, there was little to do other than to come to a mutual decision that Joyce had reached the end of the road as an inter-county hurler.
It was to the point and business-like, which came as no surprise to Joyce because that’s how the Kilkenny manager has always interacted with his players. “He talks about some past players when giving gee-up speeches, but there's very little affiliation after that,” Joyce told GAA.ie at the launch of Littlewoods Ireland’s #StyleOfPlay campaign for the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship.
“Even outside of hurling and awful lot of past players wouldn't really socialise with him either. But that's probably his management style, that's the way it's always been. You kind of know yourself when you're training if he's talking to you then there's probably something wrong here. And if he's quiet and doesn't say anything then you think, 'I'm going okay here'. That kind of way.
So you kind of do know where you stand with him. You can actually kind of get it from his body-language where you stand with him, to a certain extent.
“He's always up front and honest with you. He'll tell you if things are going well and he'll have a quiet word with you if he thinks you need to step it up.
“So you kind of do know where you stand with him. You can actually kind of get it from his body-language where you stand with him, to a certain extent.
“It probably has worked for him down through the years. I know there are different management styles coming out now with some inter-county managers, but it seems to be still working. There's always that thing that it's Brian Cody so no matter what he does you'll always fully focus in and do whatever he says.”
Kilkenny’s Allianz Hurling League win this year suggests that Cody’s methods can still be effective with the current generation of up and coming young hurlers.
But Joyce believes that as the game continues to evolve and the culture around it changes, that the Kilkenny manager will have to adapt his modus operandi somewhat.
“I suppose with a lot of these players now, and the management style now is that there are a lot more meetings and people are maybe having more feedback. Even from stats, and you're talking with your strength and conditioning (coach) and your trainers mapping things.
“With Brian you certainly would not get that sort of feedback. Leading up to a big match, if you're on the 'A' team you think, 'Right, we're playing 'A' versus 'B' and I'm still on the 'A' team here, I'm in contention to start'.
“The night before, if we have a meeting, he would tell you if you're starting. Apart from that, if you're 50-50, you won't be told. So you won't know until the team sheet is given or until he announces it.
“And then if you get dropped you don't get feedback on why you were dropped. Historically. That's probably a thing that will have to change. The way the games are gone now and everything is analysed. I'm guessing he's adapting to a certain extent himself. Each year more and more things come into play.
"There's Apps now that you can track everything with and more and more players and managers have to talk and communicate a bit more.”
Cody might prefer to keep an emotional distance in the relationship he has with his players, but Joyce has seen a more human side of the Kilkenny manager.
“As a player, some nights you'd be at an Awards events and you'd meet him and you'd have to make that awkward conversation,” said Joyce. “But we're all thinking, 'Jesus, I better get out of here now'. It's always that sort of pupil-teacher sort of thing.
“But, to be fair, outside of that when you'd meet him afterwards you'd meet him once or twice and he'd actually have a laugh. He's humorous. He's make you laugh with his wit.
“But when you're in that sort of environment, you don't see that at all. It's only when you're on the outside that you do start to see it.”
I always found with Brian that he finds the strongest skills of most players.
Developing personal relationships with his players might not be part of Cody’s management style, but according to Joyce there are none better at assessing a hurlers strengths and weaknesses.
He believes one of the secrets to Kilkenny’s success during the Brian Cody era has been the Kilkenny manager’s ability to make the most of the players at his disposal.
“I always found with Brian that he finds the strongest skills of most players,” said Joyce. “We were playing Clare in a League relegation match and I had been lining out centre-back and Tony Kelly comes in on me.
“Brian just went, 'Look, you're not going to be marking Tony Kelly'. I was thinking, 'Jesus, thank God for that!' He just said I didn't have the legs for him and I was grand with that. So he put Lester Ryan on Tony Kelly and switched me across onto John Conlon who would be more my sort of player to mark.
“Even down through the years, Brian would love a man who wins primary ball, who wins puck-outs and that kind of thing. A lot of his players in certain positions would do that. So he'd pick a person based on their strengths and he'd play them in a certain position where he can get the most from those strengths. He then builds his team around that.
“I was a blocker and a stopper. That's why centre-back or wing-back suited me. And he didn't expect me to be following Tony Kelly or sprinting around the place or being able to track down fast wing or corner forwards.”
“He'd put someone like Paul Murphy on the fast man. So he'd pick and choose his match-ups and he was always very good at that.”