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Cody is here to stay ... and slay

HE always leaves us waiting but, in truth, does he ever leave us guessing? Brian Cody's decision to stay on as Kilkenny hurling manager for a 17th season is staggering only in one sense: the fact that any one person would have the boundless reserves of mental energy, and enthusiasm, to keep on coming back to face the exact same ultimate challenge, year after year.

All-Ireland or failure: no middle ground.

But Cody is not alone an extraordinary manager but he's no ordinary person, either.

Kevin Fennelly was the last man to manage Kilkenny. He did it for just a year, 1998, ending in All-Ireland final defeat to Offaly. His longest spell with any team, club or county, was three campaigns.


Asked if he was surprised by Monday night's confirmation that his successor was staying on, Fennelly answered with an emphatic "No". Why? "Because he loves it so much. It's kind of a way of life with Brian."

There are, of course, other reasons why Cody would feel compelled to carry on. Take a look at the team that started the All-Ireland final replay against Tipperary, now make a wild presumption (unlikely, given the manager's lust for shaking up his line-ups) that they're all retained for Kilkenny's Leinster SHC semi-final on June 21 next year. Just four would be 30 or over for that championship opener: JJ Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell (both 33), Eoin Larkin and Michael Fennelly (both 30).

Tyrrell was straight out of the blocks, post All-Ireland replay, to confirm he'd be back in 2015. As for Delaney, one Kilkenny observer noted: "I expect JJ will be there. He has put in massive performances with the club (this autumn). Fenians have been in five or six relegation finals and the joke going around now is that if JJ had been on the Titanic, it wouldn't have gone down."

Here's the thing: Kilkenny aren't exactly coltish but they retain a stable of thoroughbreds entering their prime years. Fast-forward to next June and the average age of this year's replay team would be just under 27. The team has evolved and the new leaders - Paul Murphy, Richie Hogan, Colin Fennelly, TJ Reid, Richie Power - are all in their mid-to-late 20s.

Another batch of thirtysomething heroes - the iconic Henry Shefflin, Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan and Aidan Fogarty - may well be contemplating retirement, but only one of this decorated quartet (Hogan) started the drawn All-Ireland.

One theory, oft repeated, was that Cody would bow out with Shefflin having achieved the history-making ten All-Irelands in tandem.

But this notion is strongly refuted by one long-time Cody watcher, who argues: "That would be the last thing he'd do - there wouldn't be any of that sort of sentiment."

The same source believes that, leaving aside the reclamation of Liam MacCarthy, Kilkenny are after "coming out of the All-Ireland in great shape, way better than I thought we would".

Another reason, then, to stay on.

Here's another: in response to a perceived crisis at underage level, a couple of years back, the Kilkenny county board has tweaked its development squad system, started working with the best emerging talent at a younger age, and the results are now showing in the grades below minor.

They won an All-Ireland minor title, arguably against the head, last September ... but as former minor manager Adrian Ronan points out, there are now "huge expectations" in this grade over the next four years, based on results at Tony Forristal (U14) level and upwards.


As for the so-called "frustrated" generation of wannabe managers who never got a chance, Ronan counters that they are with the development squads "out of a genuine loyalty to Kilkenny hurling" and "probably not frustrated at all".

So Cody's reign continues for another year - and probably beyond.

"There was a great opportunity for him to go, if he wanted to go," says Fennelly, "because we are after knocking the heart out of Tipp and doing everything basically you would expect of any man - and a lot more.

"But the fact he has gone back again would suggest he has no intention of getting out."