Hurling a life-long lesson for apt pupil Brian Cody
By John Harrington
Sitting at a long oak table in an impressively grand reading room in St. Kieran’s College, Kilkenny hurling manager Brian Cody looks very much at home.
And so he should, because St. Kieran’s College has been an enduring and influential presence throughout his life.
As the most productive hurling nursery in the country, St. Kieran’s have provided plenty of clay for Cody to mould into All-Ireland winners.
15 of the 24 players who were involved in Kilkenny’s four-in-a-row All-Ireland titles from 2006 to 2009 were graduates of St. Kieran’s College.
Long before then Cody himself was a boarder at St. Kieran’s during his own school-days, so every time he drops by the memories come flooding back.
“It’s a long time ago now, obviously. But, yeah, (they do),” said Cody.
“Even regardless, Kieran's College has a huge presence in in Kilkenny anyway.
“Every time you pass by the building it's so impressive. And when you come in here at different times, there could be matches on or whatever, it's the same.
“Obviously, I worked in St. Patrick’s De La Salle just across the road as well and many of our pupils would have come here as well so you would have had dealings with them from that point of view as well.
“Yeah, this was my secondary school and I enjoyed it, we had a good time here.”
Cody was back in St. Kieran’s to launch the Top Oil Leinster Schools’ Senior ‘A’ Hurling Championship, and his memories of his own days hurling at that level remain vibrant.
Not surprising, really, considering he captained a star-studded St. Kieran’s team to an All-Ireland Colleges Final victory over St. Finbarr’s of Farranferris of Cork in 1971.
“It was a terrific game from the point of view that it was 13-a-side,” recalled Cody.
“Father Michael O'Brien, Canon Michael O'Brien as he became, was the man in charge of Farranferris.
“I went on to get to know some of their players. I was hurling on Tadhg O'Sullivan, the eminent surgeon now. Dan O'Dwyer, I went to St. Pat's with him as well, he was midfield.
“We had a some serious players on our team as well. Obviously to win a Colleges All-Ireland when you're here is terrific, it's great.
“But hurling was just part and parcel of our every-day life in St. Kieran's.
“And you still come into St. Kieran's College and the first thing you see and hear is lads beating a hurling ball around. Everybody more or less with a hurl in their hand.”
His time in St. Kieran’s brought Cody into contact with the legendary Father Tommy Maher who coached the Kilkenny senior hurlers to seven All-Ireland titles between 1957 and 1975.
After leaving school Cody would then play under Maher with the Kilkenny senior hurlers, as a member of that All-Ireland winning team of '75.
It’s easy to believe that Maher’s influence was a vital one and helped set Cody on the path to becoming the greatest manager in the history of the game.
“He taught me for a number of years here and he was always there as a real man with so much experience and so much to offer,” said Cody.
“He would have been there to talk to players and talk to the team. The fact that he was here meant a huge amount.
“He was hugely into the whole sense of coaching. Because at the time there was an awful lot of interest in coaching and he was very much one of the men behind it.
“There were coaching courses going on in Gormanstown at the time and he would have been at the forefront of all of that.
“So, he was a huge hurling thinking man as well as having the ability. Obviously I went in and played under him with the Kilkenny seniors as well.
“So, from the time I came here to the time he finished up with the Kilkenny seniors, he would have been there as an influence.
“Anybody who is in the dressing-room when you're the player and he's there as the coach or manager and he's talking and he's in charge then it's a guarantee that he has to have an influence.
“Regardless, you're taking in things and they're there in your head. Obviously he was a great man for team play and good use of the ball. He put a lot of emphasis on the hand-pass as a means of team-play.
“He was very much a hurling thinker.”
As much as Cody might have been shaped by others along his journey, it was clear from a very early age too that he had the stuff you need to be able to lead.
After captaining the Croke Cup winning St. Kieran’s team 1971 he then captained the Kilkenny minor hurlers to All-Ireland glory the following year.
He was captain too of the 1982 All-Ireland winning Kilkenny senior team, and throughout his career he would have been naturally inclined towards having an interest in how best to lead others.
“I suppose you are,” he said. “You bring yourself to the thing as well.
“No matter how many people you come in contact with, and I would have been influenced by other managers, coaches, trainers as well over the time at club as well as county, you bring everything with you and you also bring your own thinking and thoughts about it as well.
“It's all of those things. You're influenced sub-consciously too without realising it as well and that adds to your own thoughts as well. It's a combination of all of those things.”
Cody will be back in charge of Kilkenny in 2018 for a 20th year in a row.
He’s as passionate about hurling now as he was as a young boarder in St. Kieran’s all those years ago, and admits he can’t imagine a life that didn’t revolve around the sport.
“There are so many people for who hurling...or whatever sport you're into...our lives without sport would be hard to imagine,” said Cody.
“You have to occupy the mind and your energies and everything else and your interests. You have to have that to be able to fulfil yourself in any way at all.
“That's the way life is for everybody. You have your interests. And for many people it's a sport of whatever variety.
“It is life. It's real life. Through their families, their parents, their children or brother and sister or whatever, they have a sporting connection. And with their community they have a sporting connection.
“And then for some people you can go on and play with your county. But it's part of all of us, essentially.”