Winning-machine Cody still has his foot on the gas
By John Harrington
This Sunday Brian Cody will contest his 18th All-Ireland Final during his 21-year reign as Kilkenny manager.
He’s won 11 and drawn two of the previous 17, and also won 15 Leinster titles, nine National Leagues, and seven Walsh Cups in that time bringing his total to 42 titles in all.
He’s re-writing the history books in real time on a near-annual basis, but the secret of his success is that he couldn’t really care less about legacy.
Cody is such a cold-blooded winner because he never reflects on what he has achieved in the past, he’s always totally focused on the immediate challenge at hand.
“The history part of it? No I don't (reflect on it), absolutely not,” said Cody.
“Whatever has happened, has happened. Just carrying on where you are - the present and the future, whatever it is.
“But the immediate future, it's not as if we have this big long-term plan for three years time or something. You're doing whatever you're doing and you're working towards it.”
Hurling has evolved a lot as a sport during Cody’s reign as Kilkenny manager and he wouldn’t have had such sustained success were he not one of the game’s biggest innovators.
He’s not always recognised as such, though. Instead, some commentators peg him as a traditionalist or even an old-school manager, but the fact is he wouldn’t be the prolific winner he is were that the case.
“Well, you see the commentators can speculate on those things,” said Cody.
“I don't speculate on it. I don't even think about what's happening too much. You look at the players you have, you have players, obviously you see what's happening with other teams.
“And you have to first and foremost make sure you maximise whatever you have on your panel yourself, your own players. Then you have to obviously look at who you're playing and different teams bring different challenges.
“Whatever challenge is being thrown at you, you have to try and make sure you're able to compete with.”
Kilkenny are more tactically flexible now than they were five years ago which testifies to Cody’s ability to move with the times.
But even though systems might change, he’s convinced that the fundamentals have the game are as immutable now as they were when he first took charge of the Kilkenny team in 1999.
“I do believe that for certain,” said Cody. “The fundamentals are - it's a game of skill, first and foremost, it's a game of physicality, athleticism, pace, energy and all of those things, commitment and determination.
“You can't dilute those things. Then you can bring whatever tactics you want that you believe are going to help you to implement those fundamentals as best you possibly can.
“That's every manager's prerogative to do that. That's what everybody does but the fundamentals are absolute in my opinion.
“Essentially, you prepare well, the team has to be physically up for it and prepared well physically which they are.
“Mentally as well as everything else and obviously the skill levels, it's the same thing - the fundamentals have to be looked after.”
Cody has always set the tone mentally in the Kilkenny dressing-room thanks to his will to win and rule of rewarding form with selection.
The credit for Kilkenny’s supreme physical conditioning goes to team-trainer Michael Dempsey, who has been Cody’s right-hand man since 2005 and is a genius at getting a team to peak physically at the business end of the season.
“I just trust implicitly that Michael will prepare the team physically as they need to be,” said Cody.
“He has proven that many times and that's what he does. I don't interfere and tell him what to do.
“We talk about it and we're obviously on the same wavelength. But if ever I felt something else should be done, I would.
“I've never felt it, I couldn't feel it because I'll say, What's the story Mick?' and he'll tell me what he's thinking of doing and I'll say, 'Off you go.'
“I wouldn't even need to tell him that, he's just very, very good at what he does.”
So is Cody. Kilkenny teams under his watch have been winning machines because that’s what Cody is himself and he’s as fired up for his 18th All-Ireland Final as he was his first 20 years ago.
“It's the same kind of feeling you get,” said Cody. “There's something very important on that day.
“If you're playing a match you have that feeling for it as well, or whatever it is you're going doing. Something massive in work, whatever it is.
“It's just that you know this is important, this is special and you're totally focused.”