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Tuesday 15 October 2019

Dublin are up there with best: Cody

Depleted by injuries, no longer kings of Leinster, but Cats boss still has 'massive trust' in his squad

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody at the launch of the Leinster Senior Championships at Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel, Dublin Pic: Sportsfile
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody at the launch of the Leinster Senior Championships at Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel, Dublin Pic: Sportsfile

Never mind Brian Cody the manager. As a player, he was an All-Ireland winner and an All Star defender in two different decades. In other words, he knew all about minding the house, protecting what you have.

As the most decorated manager that hurling has ever known, the Kilkenny boss has also shown himself to be remarkably adept at home protection. Or guarding the empire. Not saying anything loose that might be pounced on by the next ambitious wannabe.

When he has a pointed message to convey, he knows exactly how and when and where to deliver it. But for the main part, he speaks only in praise of Kilkenny's various rivals. Especially their next opponent, in this case the Dubs.

Mattie Kenny's men visit Nowlan Park on Saturday evening (7pm) for the opening instalment of this year's Leinster SHC round-robin series, scenting an ambush but fearful of Cody's enduring capacity to survive and thrive.

Crisis

Even if they weren't currently mired in an injury crisis, the Cats would be on their guard. It's Cody's way. Always was.

"Dublin are a top team. I'm saying that a long time," he reminds his audience at the Leinster SHC launch.

"A top team - serious, serious panel. Look at their league. They beat Tipperary in the quarter-final in Thurles. That was a statement enough for anybody who hadn't the realisation at that stage how good they are.

"You say we ran Limerick close last year - Limerick beat Dublin by three points in the league semi-final.

"Dublin are up there with the very best teams. Of course, we are playing them and you can say 'Sure, of course, you would say that.' But I believe it. It's the truth, the truth."

He would say that but - in fairness - he has always been complimentary of Dublin, in bad times as well as good.

Back in 2014, after Anthony Daly's reign ended in deflating defeat to Tipperary and various pundits seemed to infer that Dublin were 'manufactured' hurlers, Cody leapt to their defence.

"The same people were saying six months before that they were capable of winning the All-Ireland," he countered at the time. "I would say it's certainly condescending, call it what you like. I would consider Dublin to be a top team, an absolute top team."

If his current squad needs any reminding on that score, all they need do is rewatch the DVD of last year's round-robin opener in Parnell Park. Yes, Kilkenny won ... but only in injury-time, and only after Dublin had hurled up a storm for the first hour.

If the hosts had prevailed that day, Leinster's landscape would have been turned on its head. Now the same scenario applies: if Dublin were to slay Kilkenny away for the first summer since 1942, the Cats would be facing an uphill battle for survival.

"It's a huge game for all the teams, that first game," Cody agrees. "If you drop points, straight away you're fighting to get back into it and you still have time to get back into it - but every game is so competitive."

Does he like the format? "I don't even think like that because it doesn't matter whether I like it or not," he replies. "Obviously, it's hugely exciting as a spectacle for the people looking on, but it's challenging for players if you play one week and then the following week which still has to happen.

"We're talking about having injuries now, but if you pick up an injury on a Sunday and you have a game on the following Sunday, a fairly innocuous injury can become a two-week one pretty easily. That's tricky."

Power

This weekend marks the start of Cody's 21st Leinster campaign as manager. He has won 15 of the previous 20. Yet the last two have gone to Galway, albeit last year's decider after a replay. The balance of power - not just All-Ireland but provincial - has tilted.

Still, last year's All-Ireland quarter-final against the eventual champions surely offers hope: Kilkenny led by two after Richie Hogan's late goal only for Limerick to surge again and win by two.

"They beat us because they were better on the day," Cody surmises. "Obviously with a few minutes to go we were in a very strong position, that's what happened and they are the facts.

"Does that put us way off the mark? I'd be thinking it doesn't. I always thought that anyway. Limerick went on to win the All-Ireland final very impressively so can we take anything from it right now? No. Except for the fact that it goes to show, whatever the challenge we have we just take it on.

"I'd always have huge confidence in our own players, our panel. Even though right now we have injuries, I would still have massive trust in the players who are available to us."

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