Cody: We won't play a sweeper
Brian Cody felt it pertinent to make a statement about how Kilkenny will set themselves up this Sunday in Croke Park.
A veteran of pre-All-Ireland press briefings, Cody was chewing the fat over Dublin's success in largely stifling the Tipperary attack in their All-Ireland semi-final, partly through the utilisation of Johnny McCaffrey in the sweeper role in front of the Dubs defence.
Full of praise for the Lucan man's performance on the day, Cody nevertheless made a statement that, given its genuineness, is largely unusual for a manager so close to the game.
“We won't be playing sweeper, that's all I can tell you for sure,” he said. “We just go and play ... at the end of the day we will have a chance of winning the game if we play as well as we possibly can.”
Should anybody be surprised? Not really.
If anything, the suggestion that Kilkenny might sacrifice a forward for fear that their defence isn't good enough on its own merits to stop an alignment of forwards was an affront to their very Kilkenny-ness, that trait to which they can owe so much of their incredible recent success.
“Our focus will be on ourselves playing as well as we possibly can,” Cody continued.
“That's always been our focus. Of course, we're aware of Tipperary's strengths and there are many. But at the end of the day if we just focus completely on Tipperary, Tipperary, Tipperary, we'll kind of forget the fact that we can be kind of decent ourselves if we just go and play.”
Kind of decent? They spent all of 2010 being told they were the greatest hurling outfit to ever play the game. They were after stringing four All-Ire
lands back-to-back and were heading for an unprecedented fifth before Tipperary ruined the coronation as hurling immortals.
That game and that defeat prompted plenty of premature renditions of the last rites, not for Cody or for Kilkenny hurling but for that team which was so consistent in its make-up over the previous five seasons.
There have been changes but nothing wholesale and Kilkenny are back in an All-Ireland final, despite a League final defeat to Dublin which apparently added timber to the flames of those who see them as something of a fading force.
Not unreasonably, Cody suggests the fact that Kilkenny were in two National finals at all in the last year makes them a team to be respected.
“After the league final there was a lot of uncertainty about how we were and where we were going,” he acknowledges. “I suppose the supporters in Kilkenny itself even were unsure about how we would progress. Nationally as well there was a lot of doubt about us and we were probably written off to an extent.”
Similar feelings within the camp?
“Ah no, the panel itself, it wasn't like that at all. I'd say we were very patchy during the league and we got a bad beating in the league final.”
And what of last year's All-Ireland final loss, the one which the rest of the world imagines keeps Cody and his players awake at night watching goal after goal hit the back of PJ Ryan's net?
Did he go picking through the bones of defeat and find anything edible?
“Not particularly, not forensically or anything but I would have looked at it, yeah. It would have been remiss of me if I didn't, the manager of the team so certainly I would have to look at it.
“I suppose the thing about last year's final is that we weren't particularly bad in last year's final. It was obviously a very, very good game and it would have been impossible to have been a very, very good game if we hadn't played decent as well.
“In the last five minutes they put serious daylight between us but up to that there was, what, three or four points in it. I mean there's no doubt about it. The best team ... the best team always wins the All-Ireland final.
“There's only one proof of the pudding and that's the scoreboard. But I mean when you concede goals, what, four goals? Very, very difficult to win then.”
And what of the Kilkenny/Tipp rivalry which is now entering its third September installment and, for that very reason, the annals of great GAA conflict?
“There's a huge amount of pain for the team that doesn't win it and for the supporters as well. Phenomenal feeling for the winners, it's just terrific.
“And then you have the greater public who can revel in the fact that they've |just seen something fantastic played |out as they've done for the last two years.
“They're a great team and it's brilliant to be taking them because that's what you're supposed to be doing,” Cody adds. “They're as tough an opposition as we've ever faced.”