IN one of his Irish Examiner columns in May, Anthony Daly wrote a piece about Brian Cody, which was titled ‘Is this Cody’s last Stand?’
Daly was still gushing in his praise of Cody, as he always has been, rating him as the greatest GAA manager of all time, ahead of Mick O’Dwyer, Kevin Heffernan, Ger Loughnane, Jim Gavin, Seán Boylan, Cyril Farrell, Mickey Harte and all the other great managers.
Harte is still going with Louth, but all the others eventually ran out of road, or, choose to get off the road.
“That question around how much road Brian has left ahead of him is a genuine one that even the great man must be contemplating,” wrote Daly.
“The question Cody will surely ask himself at the end of this year is, what will satisfy him heading into 2022?
"Winning this year’s All-Ireland would make that question irrelevant but I don’t see that happening.”
Despite all Cody has achieved, there has been a recurring theme widely and routinely spoken about since the last of Cody’s 11 All-Ireland titles as manager six years ago; to win another All-Ireland would be Cody’s greatest achievement yet.
Cody and Kilkenny didn’t manage that this year, but it was another tribute to Cody’s greatness that he could get Kilkenny so close with a group of players that are at a different level to Kilkenny when they were in their pomp under Cody.
Kilkenny trailed Cork by six points in the 65th minute, and were still three behind as the clock passed the allotted amount of injury-time, but they engineered the goal to bring the match to extra-time.
“If most teams were in that position they found themselves late on yesterday, they’d be beaten by 10 or 11 points,” wrote Daly the day after that game.
“Not Kilkenny, especially when they’re managed by Cody.”
For Cody and Kilkenny, nothing ever changes. The culture and philosophy are as strong as ever, but the fear that Kilkenny might lose something without Cody is also a loose assumption now.
The same core values of an unbreakable spirit, togetherness and a savage work rate that Cody has instilled have become so encrypted into Kilkenny’s DNA that they will endure, no matter who is in charge in the future.
Cody has now committed for a 24th season but, despite all he has achieved, the belief that he is the right man to build Kilkenny’s next All-Ireland winning team is no longer as strong as it was for over two decades.
Henry Shefflin’s recent appointment as Galway manager for three years was bound to be heavily intertwined with Cody’s decision to return for another season.
Talk of stagnation and lack of succession planning inevitably bubbled to the surface with Shefflin’s move but the general response was an understanding of where Shefflin is coming from.
When former Kilkenny player Adrian Ronan spoke on local radio station KCLR recently, his response to being told that texters were calling Shefflin’s move a “disgrace” and “scandalous” was firm and forthright.
“It’s certainly not a disgrace from Henry’s point of view,” said Ronan.
“To say that he’s turning his back on Kilkenny? It’s a disappointment for us, the Kilkenny public, from a selfish point of view.”
Shefflin has long been seen as Cody’s natural successor but the pain of seeing him go to Galway is all the more acute again now because of the fear of what Kilkenny could be losing in the short and long term.
Does the narrative that Kilkenny would not be doing any better without Cody fully stand up?
He has led Kilkenny to successive Leinster titles. Kilkenny’s strength and conditioning levels were better than in 2020, but there is still a staleness, tactical inflexibility and lack of coaching creativity that inevitably comes with managerial longevity like Cody’s.
Questions will always remain when longevity intertwines so tightly around the greatness of one individual.
Meath had already started to unravel in the final years of Sean Boylan but they have never recovered since Boylan departed in 2005 after 23 years in charge.
Kerry suffered a similar fate after Mick O’Dwyer’s departure but that was more down to Kerry’s failure to replace such a golden generation, and not harvesting as much underage success as they needed to when Kerry were gobbling up senior All-Irelands.
Kilkenny haven’t been as successful at underage in recent years, but the likelihood of Kilkenny heading for the wilderness – as Kerry and Meath experienced, for a period at least – is less likely.
Still, every county has to evolve and to try and keep moving forward.
Tyrone were in the same place this time last year. Faced with a choice between ratifying their most successful ever manager or going with fresh new blood, Tyrone opted for the latter.
Tyrone will always be grateful to Harte, but they just believed that a new direction and a different way of thinking were called for.
Harte’s place in the pantheon is secure but Cody’s status is untouchable.
This year’s Leinster title was Kilkenny’s 73rd provincial title and their 17th under Cody’s 23-year tenure.
To put that number into greater context, Cody has now managed Kilkenny to nearly a quarter of the Leinster titles won in their entire history.
No manager has won more All-Irelands.
Cody is still hunting for more but Shefflin’s move has inflated the sense of the potential damage Kilkenny’s lack of succession planning is causing them, both now and for the future.