Brian Cody: 'This year's championship will be the most competitive of all'
By John Harrington
Brian Cody believes the 2017 All-Ireland Hurling Championship will be more competitive than any other he’s been involved in as Kilkenny manager.
This will be his 19th season in charge of the Cats, and he’s convinced there are more genuine contenders for the Liam MacCarthy Cup now than ever before in all that time.
“I've said this every year I suppose, but there are four or five teams who are sort of more or less on a regular basis could win the All-Ireland Final and there's another four or five who could beat any of those teams on a given day,” said Cody at the launch of the Leinster Senior Football and Hurling Championships yesterday.
“It probably has changed this year to an extent, I would say there's more teams capable this year of winning an All-Ireland Final. I'd say definitely. I think it's going to be the most competitive of all.
“I think the quality of so many teams is top class right now really, it really is serious and our challenge, and our challenge has always been to be up there as one of the top teams being competitive the whole time and it's always a challenge.”
The manner in which Galway trounced reigning All-Ireland champions Tipperary in the Allianz Hurling League Final is a testament to the strength of the field in the race for the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
Cody has always been a vociferous admirer of Galway hurling, but he even he was taken aback by the scale of their 16-point victory.
“I don't think anyone could be surprised that Galway could win a hurling match because that's the quality they have,” said Cody.
“Everyone would have to be surprised with the nature of the win, that's understandable, they're playing the All-Ireland Champions, Tipperary, a top team. You know, the best team in the country as they are the All-Ireland Champions.
“So, was it a surprise? That the nature of the victory was so comprehensive? Of course it was, of course it was.”
Galway were made second-favourites for the All-Ireland by the bookies on the strength of that win over Tipp, which relegated Kilkenny to third-favourites.
When the Cats are underestimated they tend to sharpen their claws all the more, and Cody made it clear yesterday he expects his team to be genuine contenders this summer like they always are.
“People spoke for years...the reality of it is we were written off before like you know, we were beaten before, it was supposed to be the end of all sorts of whatever it was as well and now the same thing is there again,” he said.
“Regardless, our challenge is to continue being competitive and it's challenging.
“The match is motivating, the challenge is motivating, we're a team, there's other teams out there, we have to play them, it's be very strange if we weren't motivated by that and that alone.”
If Kilkenny are able to field a full-strength team they’ll take some stopping, but at the moment they have a number of high-profile players on the treatment table.
Padraig Walsh suffered a heel injury in a club match recently, and Cody was unable to give a clear indication on when he’ll return, though he sounded hopeful the full-back will be back in action in time for the Leinster semi-final on June 10.
“He's picked up an injury, how bad is hard to say,” said Cody. “We'd be hoping that Padraig will be fine in a couple of weeks, to be honest about it. He just picked up an injury to his heel.
“He was playing in a club match at the weekend. He was training away with us and there was no problem at all.
“He went off, lads were off for club training and that, and played a club match and was sore after it. There was no lead up to it or anything like that, we'd be hoping that Padraig will be fine.”
Cody is also hopeful that Ger Aylward will be back in the mix soon as well having not pucked a ball for club or county since rupturing a cruciate ligament in January 2016.
“He's doing well, to be fair,” said Cody. “He's back in decent training with us now. He still hasn't played a club match.
“But we'd be hoping Ger would get a club match into him, not this weekend, but in two weeks time. That's the plan, and hopefully he has no set-back to stop that happening.”
The player Kilkenny supporters want to see back on the pitch more than any other is midfield powerhouse Michael Fennelly, who ruptured his Achilles in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final replay against Waterford.
He’s back training in Nowlan Park with the rest of the panel and doing some light jogging, but Cody says it’s too early to say yet when he’ll able to pull back on the black and amber jersey again.
“He’s in with the group, definitely. Of course it’s great to have Michael back around the place. There is no timeframe on when Michael will actually get back playing.
“There can’t be, because the nature of the injury, it’s a process he is going through and he’s going through it diligently. He’s working really hard, obviously it would be terrific if he could get back but when, we don’t know.”
Kilkenny blooded a number of new faces in the League and tinkered with a number of positional switches, so it’s hard to know for sure exactly what to expect from them in the Championship.
Brian Cody is promising us one thing though – whatever Kilkenny team takes the field this summer will play with the same spirit that has brought the county 11 All-Ireland titles in his time as manager.
“We'll know a hell of a lot more on the 10th of June, there's no doubt about that,” said Cody.
“How would I feel about it? I would as ever have a huge confidence in our players. There's a terrific spirit there, things are always as they have been, a terrific attitude and a terrific spirit. And I would always have a great belief in the players that we have.
“Having said that, I'm acutely aware that the opposition is serious. There's outstanding opposition out there, and that's brilliant, it's great for everybody, it's great for the game.
“It's great to be part of that challenge.”