Sunday 16 December 2018

Cody favours a state of flux

Will Shefflin get replay call? Tonight will tell all

Walter Walsh, Kilkenny, in action against Tipperary players, left to right, Paddy Stapleton, Cathal Barrett, and Pádraic Maher. GAA Hurling All Ireland Senior Championship Final, Kilkenny v Tipperary. Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Dáire Brennan / SPORTSFILE
Walter Walsh, Kilkenny, in action against Tipperary players, left to right, Paddy Stapleton, Cathal Barrett, and Pádraic Maher. GAA Hurling All Ireland Senior Championship Final, Kilkenny v Tipperary. Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Dáire Brennan / SPORTSFILE

BRIAN CODY will unveil his latest All-Ireland final line-up after a public training session this evening. The serious tactical work has already been conducted, away from curious outside eyes, and there is liable to be far more focus on what appears on the Kilkenny GAA website later tonight than on what transpires in Nowlan Park.

Why such curiosity? Two reasons. Firstly, Cody very seldom engages in 'dummy' team ruses - what you see on the website is normally what you get.

Secondly, it would buck all known recent trends were Kilkenny to announce an unchanged line-up for Saturday's eagerly awaited replay at Croke Park (throw-in 5pm).

All season long - this summer more frequently than ever before - Cody and his co-selectors have chopped and changed from game to game. Winning hasn't curbed their enthusiasm: there were two changes between the Leinster final against Dublin and All-Ireland semi-final against Limerick, and a further three personnel switches come the drawn decider against Tipperary.


However, what's even more instructive is to examine Cody's tendency to shake things up after a result that doesn't go his way. Specifically, after a game that finishes in deadlock.

You don't have to look too far back, either: after watching his team cough up a 10-point lead (by leaking three goals) in the home straight of their Leinster semi-final against Galway last June, the game's most decorated manager tore up the replay script. He made five changes in personnel and some major positional alterations too for the Tullamore rematch, just six days later.

As for All-Ireland precedent, he made two changes for the Galway replay in 2012 along with one notable positional realignment. Cillian Buckley was promoted to midfield, thereby releasing Richie Hogan to full-forward.

That move reaped a profitable reward for Hogan, almost as much as the dividend cashed in by the shock decision to parachute Walter Walsh in for his senior championship debut - in September, of all months.

Wait and see

"I remember going up on the bus that day, talking about Tommy Cooper (the comic magician of red fez fame) and how he used to pull something out of the hat at the end of the programme," recalled Michael Dempsey (pictured, below), Kilkenny's long-serving coach and selector. "I'm not so sure there's another Walter, but we'll have to wait and see!"

From the outside looking in, promoting the U21 tyro came straight out of left field. Yet as Dempsey pointed out: "Walter had been going very well in training and the fact that we got another extra few weeks to have a look at him, where he sustained it, obviously influenced our decision. It wasn't rocket science; he just had a longer opportunity to convince us."

In the replay, he duly delivered 1-3 in a 'Man of the Match' performance.

The irony now is that Walsh is one of several starters looking over his shoulder ahead of tonight's announcement. The 6'5" colossus from Tullogher-Rosbercon, 23, has been oscillating on and off the team all summer; he was recalled for the drawn final but made negligible impact, scoring 0-1 prior to his 48th-minute exit.

He was replaced that day by Aidan Fogarty, while Henry Shefflin was left waiting - and warming up - for most of the half before his eventual arrival on 66 minutes. Now the big question is, if Walter is omitted, who fills the forward vacancy? There has been growing speculation this week that Shefflin could be poised for a dramatic recall for what, in all likelihood, will be his Black-and-Amber swansong in pursuit of that fabled 10th Celtic Cross. The rumour has been predicated on talk of Shefflin featuring on the 'A' team in training.

In truth, though, few outside the inner circle will know until tonight. And Cody keeps that circle incredibly tight.

John Power is reportedly going well in training; could he be sprung?

The other big question is what Cody does with his half-back line, no surprise given the perception that this is one of Kilkenny's weaker lines and the pressing collective need to batten down the hatches after the concession of 1-28 on September 7.

Joey Holden is seen to be under threat from the versatile Pádraig Walsh, who lost out for the final but replaced Holden on 61 minutes. Brian Hogan's centre-back tenure is also said to be coming under scrutiny, with a potential recall for Kieran Joyce - or maybe even Lester Ryan, the team's 'non-playing' captain? What all the above underlines is that Cody & Co have options - and they aren't afraid to utilise them.


"I've always said that I'm not worried about a settled team. I've said that many, many times over the years," Cody reiterated ahead of the replay. "We firmly believe that we have a lot of strength in depth, call it what you like, we have a strong panel. Picking the team is a massive part of (our) responsibility.

"And it's as difficult for the replay as it was for the drawn game, or the semi-final. Hence all the changes, I suppose."

Prepare for one or two more.

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