herald

Saturday 24 August 2019

Return of the kings - Cody and Sheedy defy spring doubts

Roche’s Point

Brian Cody
Brian Cody

Brian Cody in that familiar battle stance, rubbing his hands in near-gleeful anticipation.

The ball of positive energy that is Liam Sheedy, only a short puck away up the same Croke Park touchline.

Why be surprised that our summer of hurling has come down to this?

On second thoughts, your mind wanders back to that uncertain hiatus between league and championship.

Minus their Ballyhale brigade, Kilkenny had meandered through spring, losing more often than winning. No one would write them off once TJ Reid & Co returned from club conquests ... but were they still elite contenders?

It was hard to be sure, especially with no guarantee of emerging from a sticky Leinster round-robin group.

And then when an injury crisis multiplied in the weeks before championship, some of us whispered (covertly, for fear of being accused of hurling heresy) that maybe even Cody couldn't work his magic on this seemingly mundane group of stickmen.

Never go back

Around the same time, some of us might also have questioned Sheedy's logic in returning for a second stint at the Premier helm. You know what they say - 'never go back'.

After all, here was a manager who (you might say) evinced perfect timing when he walked away from the summit in 2010 ... it would take his county six more years to get back.

Even Tipperary's end-of-league form graph made you question their status: one week they steamroll Cork on Leeside turf; the next, they lose a home quarter-final to Dublin.

All of this helps to explain why, before round-robin battle commenced, Kilkenny were joint-third favourites for Liam MacCarthy (11/2, alongside Cork but behind Limerick and Galway) whereas Tipp were fifth favourites at 6/1.

Here's another reason why the doubters were circling: Tipp hadn't won any of their four SHC games in 2018 while it was 2016 since either county had reached the All-Ireland final.

For some, that prolific masterclass from Séamus Callanan & Co ushered in a fresh epoch of Premier rule ... blithely overlooking the minor detail that Tipp have specialised in one-in-a-row eras for over half a century.

Thus, two All-Irelands passed without a Kilkenny or Tipp jersey in sight. Galway were the new benchmark; then they were overhauled by Limerick, everyone's favourite new 'Invincibles' ...

Several months later, how have we come to this?

Partly because Kilkenny and Tipp are never too far away for too long. Even more so because of their managers, both of whom have reasserted old values in the face of mid-summer crisis moments.

For all Tipp's talent, Sheedy has worked wonders in revitalising a seasoned group while (gradually) introducing some of the next wave.

Flatlining

Their early-summer form was spectacular; their achievement on Sunday, however, carried more substance because of the fraught circumstances: their flatlining form beforehand, a difficult first half, myriad second half setbacks that might have broken the resolve of another team.

Yet Kilkenny's eclipse of Limerick may well qualify as Cody's finest hour - some statement when you consider his untouchable haul of 11 All-Irelands.

We're struggling to recall when we have seen him so unashamedly ecstatic at the full-time whistle.

But knowing Cody, it won't have taken long to readopt his steely-eyed game face. Second place is never good enough in Kilkenny - especially when Tipp are in the opposite corner.

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