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Thursday 21 November 2019

Cody: It's either in a fella or it's not

Surprise victory over Limerick ranks among Cody's top managerial successes

JOB DONE: Adrian Mullen (left) and Cillian Buckley of Kilkenny celebrate following the All-Ireland SHC semi-final win over Limerick at Croke Park. Pics: Sportsfile
JOB DONE: Adrian Mullen (left) and Cillian Buckley of Kilkenny celebrate following the All-Ireland SHC semi-final win over Limerick at Croke Park. Pics: Sportsfile

Little victories added up on Saturday night and contrived the shock we shouldn't really have been all that surprised by.

Kilkenny's sixth point in the 10th minute of the game, the first of Adrian Mullen's four, was one.

Tom Morrissey, a key member of the most industriously effective half-forward line in the game, took possession in that part of the pitch that Limerick have routinely turned into a warzone over the past 18 months and found that Kilkenny had set the bloody terms of engagement.

Four tacklers later, he coughs up possession to Mullen, who sharply points from about 40 metres.

Some scores are worth more than the tangible reward.

BURSTING FORWARD: Colin Fennelly of Kilkenny in action against Seán Finn of Limerick at Croke Park on Saturday
BURSTING FORWARD: Colin Fennelly of Kilkenny in action against Seán Finn of Limerick at Croke Park on Saturday

That was one of them.

In the Munster final - still the most ruthlessly clinical performance of this year's Championship - Limerick's half-forward line scored a collective 1-9.

On Saturday night, they managed a single point from Tom Morrissey between them.

Morrissey and Hegarty were substituted.

Kyle Hayes, meanwhile, spent a weird stint as a marking centre-back on TJ Reid as Declan Hannon battled the rib injury he picked up and the anonymity Kilkenny's clever passing had subjected him to.

Whereas in the Munster final, Limerick's performance had the feel of a perfect plan perfectly executed, here they were forced into awkward, off-script situations.

Maybe we should have been so surprised.

This, after all, was Limerick's third defeat of the Championship.

Logical

Their full-back line, anointed as one potentially one of the greatest ever to congregate, was taken for 1-8 from play by a sharp Adrian Mullen (0-4), an eager Colin Fennelly (1-3) and a barely-mobile Richie Hogan (0-1).

Of course, there is no logical way of explaining the capacity of Kilkenny hurling teams to bring such fire to occasions such as Saturday night's, other than they had been imbued with the ferocious competitive spirit of their manager.

"Look, it's either in a fella or it's not," Cody said, not inclined to delve too spiritually into the eternal 'nature versus nurture' debate.

"You can't send out fellas there that you know in your heart and soul are never going to be able to do that.

"Essentially, they're in the county panel first of all because they're well able to hurl, they have plenty of skill and all the rest of it, and then it's the application they bring and the honesty they bring and the sense of team they bring.

"Limerick are living proof of that with the way they won the All-Ireland final last year and they oozed it.

"We keep our feet on the ground. The only thing we'd ever like to think is that we'll go out and we'll work very, very hard. We've got nothing on any other team in the country and we have to (work hard) at all times.

"I said at the start of the year I had huge confidence in the panel of players we had. I know we had injuries but I continued to say I had huge confidence in our players. I still have because they're very, very honest."

They are nothing like the polished teams that rattled off All-Irelands in the mid-to-late part of the last decade but perhaps they don't need to be to win what would surely rank as the most impressive of all Cody's myriad managerial feats.

Walter Walsh and Richie Hogan still look some way off optimum fitness.

But in Huw Lawlor, Conor Browne and particularly Mullen, Kilkenny have a batch of new men already infused with the ferocious characteristics of the team.

Lawlor had as good a game on Aaron Gillane on Saturday night as any full-back could.

Browne took on everything in the war zone and used the ball intelligently.

And Mullen continues to embellish his reputation as a Kilkenny forward of rich promise, bringing his summer tally to 1-13.

"Obviously we knew the opposition was so serious," said Cody after the final spot was secure, Kilkenny's first appearance in hurling's biggest day since 2016.

"All-Ireland champions, National League champions.

"Our first thing was to come up here and be competitive, to give ourselves a chance. Obviously, we were very, very competitive.

"To grind it out and keep going. To finish ahead at the final whistle was massively satisfying."

You got the feeling Cody derived more satisfaction from Saturday's win than any of the previous 15 All-Ireland semi-final victories he had guided them to.

Easy to see why.

"It will be massively difficult to win the final," he announced.

"But you certainly couldn't win if you weren't in it. And we have a chance when we're in it."

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