THE WAR­RIOR’S CODE

Jackie Tyrrell’s new book lifts the lid on Brian Cody’s Kilkenny

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE -

BRIAN un­der­stands the group dy­namic, the im­por­tance of proper chem­istry and how it needs to be mixed with the cor­rect blend of char­ac­ters. Per­son­al­i­ties who leaven that mix are crit­i­cal to any group but Cody never wants some­body stir­ring the pot up too much.

John Mul­hall was a great char­ac­ter, a guy who never con­formed to ex­pec­ta­tions. He once had the dis­tinc­tion of rep­re­sent­ing Ire­land in the World Se­ries of Beer Pong in Las Ve­gas.

Mul­hall was up for any­thing. At the home­com­ing for the 2011 All-Ire­land, Brian handed him the mi­cro­phone and Mul­hall thought he was in the 3 Arena. He per­formed the song he’d writ­ten him­self,

G’wan the Su­per Cats, to the melody of KC & The Sun­shine Band’s Give It Up. Ev­ery verse was loaded with enough clas­sic lines for a stand-up com­edy gig and we all belted out the cho­rus. Every­thing was go­ing to plan un­til Mul­hall came to the last verse. “Now we’ve taken back our throne/Tip­per­ary póg mo thóin/Liam MacCarthy’s com­ing fuck­ing home.”

Cody’s body lan­guage im­me­di­ately changed. When he took the mi­cro­phone back off Mul­hall, Brian told the crowd: “You’ve wit­nessed a per­for­mance by a fella who is prob­a­bly go­ing to have the short­est in­ter-county ca­reer of all time.”

Brian may have only been jok­ing, but Mul­hall was gone by the fol­low­ing spring.

Brian ap­pre­ci­ates wit and fun but most guys sup­press that part of their per­son­al­ity around him be­cause no­body knows where they stand with him. That mys­tique about Cody and his per­son­al­ity means that the play­ers never know how to take him. That is a strength of Brian’s but he prob­a­bly feels he needs that type of per­son­al­ity to be able to han­dle so many driven play­ers.

Af­fec­tion has never been a dy­namic in his re­la­tion­ship with us. Cul­ti­vat­ing such a dis­tance be­tween us and him adds to his mys­tique. He is nowhere near as se­vere in pri­vate as his pub­lic im­age sug­gests but no­body would dare cross him.

For him, it’s just black and white. Noth­ing per­sonal. Just busi­ness. Cody never be­lieved that drop­ping big names, al­ways keep­ing guys on edge, added up to ruth­less­ness but none of us were ever in any doubt as to how ruth­less he could be. Be­fore the 2010 All-Ire­land final, he pulled Paddy Ho­gan and team cap­tain Eoin Guinan from the Kilkenny in­ter­me­di­ate team set to play in the All-Ire­land final against Cork. The de­ci­sion sparked some silent fury from the in­ter­me­di­ate man­age­ment when nei­ther fea­tured on the se­nior team eight days later. Guinan’s club were re­port­edly fu­ri­ous over deny­ing their man the op­por­tu­nity to cap­tain his county in an All-Ire­land final, which Kilkenny won.

Guinan was on the panel the fol­low­ing win­ter. Af­ter los­ing the 2010 final to Tipp, we went back train­ing ear­lier than nor­mal. We worked like an­i­mals over the win­ter. Eoin did all the hard train­ing but af­ter one des­per­ately hard ses­sion in Moon­coin, Brian told him he was be­ing re­leased from the panel.

I re­mem­ber after­wards won­der­ing why Eoin had been dropped in such a cal­lous man­ner. I think I asked him after­wards if he had done some­thing dur­ing the ses­sion to piss Brian off. Eoin said he hadn’t.

I didn’t un­der­stand Brian’s rea­son for bring­ing a fella down to the bot­tom of the county in Moon­coin, run­ning the shit out of him in the muck and dirt, and then telling him he was gone. To us it was point­less. To Brian Cody, it clearly wasn’t. Maybe he was put out by the crit­i­cism he got from the Kilkenny in­ter­me­di­ate man­age­ment and from peo­ple in Eoin’s club. If he was, that act of drop­ping him was Brian’s way of let­ting ev­ery­one know who was the boss, and who makes the big de­ci­sions in Kilkenny.

The play­ers were dis­ap­pointed for Eoin but none of us dared to ques­tion Cody’s au­thor­ity.

I’m sure play­ers in other coun­ties would have queried such a de­ci­sion but other coun­ties haven’t had the suc­cess that we’ve had. None of us would look crooked at Cody be­cause we all know the ex­act same thing could hap­pen to any of us just as quickly.

I of­ten hear sto­ries of man­agers in other coun­ties hav­ing a re­ally good re­la­tion­ship with their man­ager, of that fun and re­laxed dy­namic that never ex­isted be­tween us and Brian. I of­ten craved that kind of re­la­tion­ship with Brian but then when I’d hear sto­ries of how cosy some play­ers were with their man­ager, some of the drink­ing and mess­ing they’d do on hol­i­days or dur­ing the off-sea­son, I’m glad that Brian al­ways kept that dis­tance be­tween us.

No­body has a right to a jersey. We all ap­pre­ci­ate that. Brian’s meth­ods have de­liv­ered us suc­cess be­yond ev­ery­one’s wildest dreams in Kilkenny. We ap­pre­ci­ate and value the man so much. We don’t ex­pect to be mol­ly­cod­dled but the lack of feed­back is what drives most fel­las mad.

Fel­las with bags of All-Ire­land medals have some­times walked away bit­ter and an­gry. Cha Fitz­patrick has never spo­ken out pub­licly about Brian but pri­vately, I would say that he was frus­trated and may have felt forced to walk away at just 26. You can still some­times see that frus­tra­tion in Cha. He’ll of­ten have a go at Brian through some piss-take sketch. He once put up a team of ‘Cody re­jects’.

Cha was one of the most tal­ented hurlers I ever played with, but I feel that Brian made up his mind about Cha af­ter that 2010 All-Ire­land final. Phys­i­cally he was blown out of it that day. He was play­ing some great stuff for us in 2011 but he couldn’t cover the same ground any more and Cody didn’t be­lieve Cha could sur­vive in the com­bat zone the way he wanted him to. Brian let him stew on the bench and it played out just like Brian, Cha and the rest of us prob­a­bly felt it would — Cha walked.

Brian was jus­ti­fied by win­ning an­other All-Ire­land. He won an­other the year af­ter Cha walked. Brian’s suc­cess im­mu­nises his meth­ods from most forms of crit­i­cism but he still should have been more up­front with Cha dur­ing 2011. If he had pointed out what he wanted from Cha, if he told him what he needed to im­prove on, maybe Cha would have done what was asked of him, and would have given him­self a chance of ex­tend­ing his Kilkenny ca­reer. Then again, if Cody loses faith in a player, there’s no way back.

That lack of feed­back can still be crip­pling. It de­pends on where you are in your ca­reer but it still drives some lads de­mented when they’re not play­ing. I’m ex­pe­ri­enc­ing it now. It can make you crazy but you just have to ac­cept that this is how Brian con­ducts his busi­ness. It works. It has al­ways worked. He has al­ready squeezed a fair ca­reer out of me.

In­di­vid­u­al­ism is noth­ing. It’s all about the team. The show will carry on with­out any one in­di­vid­ual. He is so tun­nel-vi­sioned that play­ers, per­son­al­i­ties, egos, even feel­ings, don’t come into the equa­tion if he feels it means Kilkenny will be­come soft.

I don’t even know if Brian recog­nises the frus­tra­tion play­ers have of­ten felt. I’m sure he would if he sat down and thought about it but it’s not on his radar at all. Play­ers have got frus­trated. They have left be­fore their time was done but none of it seems to mat­ter to Brian. You’d just won­der is it a stan­dard test he sets for ev­ery­one — how long can you en­dure? How long can you stay here with­out know­ing where you stand?

I’m lucky that I’ve had Brother Damien to lean on. We’ve never been ex­posed to sports psy­chol­ogy un­der Brian, prob­a­bly be­cause he is the ul­ti­mate psy­chol­o­gist him­self.

Brian com­pletely un­der­stands the power of cal­cu­lated in­sta­bil­ity, that ten­sion he gen­er­ates be­tween hope and des­per­a­tion. Brian might say to the group that five or six lads aren’t pulling their weight and, no mat­ter how well you’re go­ing, you’ll still of­ten think he is re­fer­ring to you. That’s the kind of stuff that con­tin­ues to gen­er­ate our re­lent­less drive.

That’s all that mat­ters to Brian. He will not back down for any­one. He has his strong val­ues, that Kilkenny hurl­ing will keep rolling on, who­ever is in­volved. That is the only fo­cus he wants us to have. Noth­ing else mat­ters. He is al­ways afraid of out­side influences con­tam­i­nat­ing the panel. That’s why he has al­ways been so dis­trust­ful of the me­dia.

Some say it’s para­noia. The ma­jor­ity of the stuff that has been writ­ten about Kilkenny over the years is pos­i­tive but when Brian has no con­trol, he gets edgy. His big fear is the in­sid­i­ous dan­ger of com­pla­cency and soft­ness creep­ing in and he al­ways saw the me­dia as a ve­hi­cle for cre­at­ing those is­sues.

When Martin Fog­a­rty was in­volved, he used to co-or­di­nate and or­gan­ise all me­dia re­quests but Brian al­ways had the final de­ci­sion. We were al­ways told to say noth­ing. Seán Cum­mins, who was on the panel for a few years, came out with a com­ment once which en­cap­su­lated every­thing Brian thought, and wanted us to feel, about the me­dia. “Treat them like mush­rooms; fill them with shit and keep them in the dark.”

Jackie Tyrrell and Brian Cody cel­e­brate beat­ing Lim­er­ick in the 2014 All-Ire­land semi-final. ‘Cody is nowhere near as se­vere in pri­vate as his pub­lic im­age’

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