THE WARRIOR’S CODE
Jackie Tyrrell’s new book lifts the lid on Brian Cody’s Kilkenny
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’