BETWEEN LAST YEAR and this one, Brian Cody has probably endured more hurling-free weekends than he did in the rest of his 66 years combined.
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody.
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
On the back of the worst disrupted GAA season since the First World War, Cody couldn’t get his players back together on the field until the middle of April.
The pain of last year’s All-Ireland semi-final collapse to Waterford would have sat with them for quite some time.
He’s up to speed with Zoom and remained in contact with the players through regular sessions. Since returning, he reckons they’ve only had four or five training sessions together.
Yesterday’s game was the start of a run of five games in six weeks. Three weeks later they’ll put their Leinster crown on the line against Wexford or Laois, with a showdown against Davy Fitzgerald’s men the anticipated outcome.
So from here on in, it’ll be relentless. There will be injuries, red cards, controversial refereeing decisions, heroic performances, defensive errors and media scrutiny.
But Cody looks ready for all of it. Even as he enters his 23rd year as Kilkenny manager, it’s clear the fire inside him still burns bright.
His overriding emotion after last night’s 1-20 to 0-18 defeat of Dublin was joy at returning to what he knows best.
“We’re back out on the field, we’re hurling,” he said. “It’s just great to be out there.
“It was the first game after being out for so long. Everybody was wondering what the hurling would be like.”
The lack of atmosphere at games certainly takes away some of the adrenaline buzz, yet there’s still enough there to keep Cody hooked.
Adrian Mullen captained Kilkenny for the first time.
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
Watching him give his post-match interview, you could tell he missed it.
He was full of praise for the condition his players returned in and for their effort against Dublin.
“Great credit to the lads, to the physical trainer and physios, the way they came back in such good shape.
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“That’s a tribute to the honesty of effort they put in. I haven’t met the players since whenever we played [Waterford in the All-Ireland semi-final] last year. I literally hadn’t met them at all.
“We Zoomed alright. But they were given individual programmes from Mickey Comerford our physical trainer, and physios were checking on them for injuries and that. They’ve earned the right to get out there.
“Physically they lasted the pace fairly well, and their hurling was decent. But the thing I liked most was the attitude. Top class I thought.”
Teed up to heap praise on an individual player in interviews, Cody often speaks about the team instead.
But here he was, heaping praise on young forward Martin Keoghan, who scored of 1-4 on a fine outing.
“The goal was a big score obviously. The goal was a huge score in the game. I thought Mossy did very, very well to get that goal.
“He had a great game. The work he put in, the effort he put. He was there, winning balls, you thought he was out on his feet but then he was gone again. He’s one of those great honest players, and 1-4 is a huge contribution.”
He sympathised with Richie Leahy after the midfielder was forced off inside 11 minutes with a hamstring injury.
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“Desperate for Richie. I feel so sorry for Richie Leahy. There’s nobody who trains better than Richie, nobody has more honesty and effort and everything else. He’s a terrific player.
“He’s having hardship with both hamstrings. The physios have done powerful work. Whatever happens, you see different sportspeople in different sports as well, hamstrings can [go]. But Richie will grind his teeth and come back.”
He confirmed that the injured Walter Walsh and Richie Hogan, who helped out Kilkenny’s stats team for the game in the stand, will also miss next weekend’s visit of Antrim to Nowlan Park.
His hope for the rest of the league?
“Well more of that to be honest. Building on that and improving on that. That would be our starting point. I’d be hoping we improve every facet of the play after that. Again, we’ve got to look at different players.
“Again, we’ll have an opportunity over the next couple of games to look at different options as well. We want at the end of the league to have a hugely competitive panel.”
TJ Reid was held scoreless from play.
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
Even Dublin boss Mattie Kenny wasn’t too disheartened by the defeat, pointing at the game time he got into the legs of Liam Rushe at centre-back until his late dismissal.
“We want to get game time into them. We want to build and to sharpen our hurling and games like this are going to bring us on a lot.
“The league and games like this are going to be really good preparation for the championship. We’re happy with the performance tonight, the result didn’t go our way but we stuff to work on and lots to take into the league going forward.”