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Tribesmen have Indian sign over Cody's all-conquering Cats

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WATCHING BRIEF: Kilkenny manager Brian Cody, among Galway fans, at the 2018 All-Ireland SHC final. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

WATCHING BRIEF: Kilkenny manager Brian Cody, among Galway fans, at the 2018 All-Ireland SHC final. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

WATCHING BRIEF: Kilkenny manager Brian Cody, among Galway fans, at the 2018 All-Ireland SHC final. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Late in the evening of the 21st of August 2005, in the car park of the Newpark Hotel, three Kilkenny players approached Brian Cody as he walked from the team bus to his car and urged him not to step down as their manager.

A couple of hours earlier, standing in a hushed Croke Park dressing-room, Cody told the squad that the Kilkenny public could never thank them enough for what they had done over the seven years of his reign to that point.

As he acknowledged in his eponymous 2009 autobiography, "it might have sounded like a farewell speech", making it clear he was "quite happy" to be interpreted as such. "I had to have them firmly behind me if I was going to stay on", he wrote.

A few weeks later, having digested all the 'Kilkenny-in-transition' talk, Cody resolved to stay, embarking on a run of four successive All-Irelands that secured his legacy as hurling's greatest manager.

A 'Sliding Doors' moment?

What if those three players had decided to keep their distance that evening?

And why, around then, was it always Galway that prompted such bouts of introspection from Cody?

The Tipperary clashes have always carried a weighty, historic importance while the enmity with Cork has often felt as though born of a collision of contrasting ideologies.

But for watershed results - defeats and victories - Kilkenny v Galway has been the defining rivalry of the Brian Cody era.

In 2001, as manager of All-Ireland champions, Cody watched Galway "bully the hell out of us" in another semi-final.

The defeat, he noted, "left me with a horrible, empty feeling."

Worse.

"I didn't have to look very far for the reason we performed so badly", he admitted in his book. "It was all down to me."

Cody was adamant that unbeknownst to himself, he had "allowed standards to drop."

"Not in an obvious way but in little things, maybe like a fella showing up late for training for no good reason and getting away with it."

The squad, he added, had "become very friendly as a group", diminishing some of the flintier competition within.

"Without realising it", he revealed, "we had gone a little soft".

It's fair to say that no Kilkenny team in the 19 silver-plated years since then has stood similarly accused.

Never once, even after relatively lean seasons, has Cody bemoaned a lack of fight.

And never has it been more apparent than subsequent games against Galway.

Back in '01 and '05, the Tribesmen represented a shadowy presence from the west who, as Cody described in his autobiography "are virtually impossible to stop when they get their game right".

But compounding both defeats was Galway failing to reproduce the same fire or brimstone in subsequent All-Ireland finals.

After Cork beat them in '05, a perplexed Cody wondered why it was that Galway "reserve those special days for us and then don't repeat it the next time".

In the decade-and-a-half since, the dynamic between the counties has changed drastically but the rivalry is no less acute.

Tangible

Galway, since their admission to the Leinster championship in 2009, are a far more tangible entity than they once were. The mystery is gone.

In 22 seasons, Cody has faced off against Galway on 20 occasions in the championship, five more than Kilkenny's next most frequent opponent, Wexford.

And though victories (11) almost double the number of defeats (six), Galway have the highest win percentage of any team against Brian Cody's Kilkenny.

In 2013, after they were beaten by Dublin in Portlaoise in the Leinster semi-final replay, he told Anthony Daly's players that the performance would count for nothing unless they followed it up against Galway in the Leinster final eight days later.

"Ye are carrying Leinster hopes now," he informed them. "We let the Bob O'Keeffe Cup out of Leinster last year and it's not something we're proud of."

That 2012 Leinster final reads as another of those Galway defeats that became part origin story for a Kilkenny success. That summer, they managed to turn a 10-point Leinster final defeat into an 11-point All-Ireland final victory, via a draw, in 10 weeks.

More recently though - and of greater relevance to Saturday's Leinster final - is Galway winning three of the last four championship meetings and drawing the other, a spell of dominance that no other team has managed in the Cody era.


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