The occupancy of those wearing the black and amber jersey may have changed significantly in recent times, but the drive for excellence remains the same under Brian Cody’s imperious watch in Kilkenny.
For 17 seasons, Cody has led the Cats through the most honours-laden era in inter-county history and in this post-JJ/Shefflin era, the wind shows no signs of abating in the Cats’ sails.
“It seems like a natural transition, obviously,” said the Kilkenny manager, who cut a relaxed figure during last Wednesday’s press briefing in Langton’s.
“If you’re going from a particular group, a group you’ve had with for a number of years, and when quite a few are leaving at the same time, then there’s bound to be a transition.
“Now whether that impacts negatively on what you’re trying to do or not in terms of a particular team or a certain panel, but transition is an understandable word to use.”
Reflecting on last winter’s high-profile retirements, Cody added: “The players who have left from last year will always be part, not only of Kilkenny hurling folklore but hurling folklore everywhere because they had outstanding careers so it’s understandable that they’ll be spoken about, but once you go from the dressing room, you’re gone.
“Those (retired) players also witnessed outstanding players come and go before them as well, and they weren’t interested in dwelling on the players they saw going and the players we have now are the very, very same. They’re getting on with it and doing their job and some of them will come and go as well.
“And a lot of the players we still have were providing leadership while those players were still part of the panel as well. Everyone would love to see those players last forever and play forever, but that’s not reality.”
As for Sunday’s challenge, Cody is under no illusions about the quality of the opposition.
“It’s obvious to everybody that Waterford are a very good team that have produced a consistent level of performance all year; and possibly only in one match, the Munster Final against Tipperary, they probably didn’t produce the sort of performance they’d have wanted, even though they were still in that game with a few minutes left.
“They’ve got speed, skill and athleticism – some of have spoken about a defensive set up but I don’t quite see in those terms.”
As for how he may set up against Waterford, knowing that his corner backs might have a little more time on the ball than they customarily do, he replied: “It’s something I just don’t really know yet myself at the moment but to be honest we’ll be concentrating more on ourselves and getting our own game right so that we can take on the challenge Waterford will present us with.”
So what has he made of Waterford’s progress and style of play this year?
“When I think about Waterford, and even before I knew we were playing them, I’d people asking me over the months what I thought of Waterford.
“And the first thing I thought of is their skill levels, their speed and so on, plus their subs, younger lads coming on and making an impact in several matches.
“And again I go back to their huge skill, and I’ve seen that skill developing over the past few years and they’ve a huge amount going for them and they’re playing to a particular way, but they’re capable of tweaking that at any stage as well.
“I don’t feel that they’ve been playing even remotely in one particular way and they’ve been labelled as been very defensive, but they’ve been getting huge scores all year.”
When asked can a team win the MacCarthy Cup playing Waterford’s brand of hurling, Cody didn’t adopt the view that less informed observers of the game have readily cut and pasted into social media pages.
“Again, I don’t look at them that way. I don’t look at Waterford that way at all. They’ve the ability to get upfield as well and they’ve been playing with great freedom, shooting points from everywhere – they’ve got huge belief in themselves. So can they win an All-Ireland? There’s no doubt about it they could win an All-Ireland. Could they win a National League? Well they went out and did just that and they’re one of the four teams left in the Championship and they’ve as good a chance as any of the other teams left in it now.
As for Kilkenny ever deploying a sweeper, Cody offered the sort of comment that ought to wind its way into any right minded coach’s playbook.
“Teams will always do what they feel they need to have to do to win games,” he said.
“That’s the nature of sport. What other way could you do it? If you have to do whatever has to be done, in any given day, in any given year, whatever it is, you’ve got to look at that, take on the opposition that’s out there and go about it in the way that’s going to give you the best possible chance to win the game. That’s the situation facing any team.”
Injuries haven’t been too kind to the All-Ireland champions this year, yet that hasn’t stopped them from retaining both their Division 1A status or the Bob O’Keeffe Cup.
With Jackie Tyrell out of contention with a stress fracture and Richie Power “definitely ruled out” while Michael Fennelly’s struggles, Cody, as his form, wasn’t one for playing the poor mouth ahead of Sunday’s semi-final.
“Injuries are always something you want to avoid if at all possible but they’re also almost inevitably part of what you’re going to have during any given season, and they’ve certainly been very much part of what we’ve had this year. But, as well as that, you can’t dwell on that aspect of it.”
He continued: “Obviously, I’m very sorry for the lads that are out injured but that’s as far as it goes because dwelling on injuries brings negativity to the people you’re working with and it’s also a test of your panel too, and once we decide on our panel, I’ve always had absolute confidence in their ability to do a job.
“And what do you want from players? You want them to come in and do a job for a team. And while everyone talks about standout players and marquee players, and while that’s understandable, I’ve always considered a player in terms of the job that he can do for the team, and that kind of work might go very unnoticed at times.”
Among those who’ve impressively made the step up this year is Glenmore’s Ger Aylward who struck a stunning 3-5 on his Championship debut against Wexford. But Aylward’s own natural transition hasn’t greatly surprised his manager.
“To some it might look as if Ger has just shot out of the blue, but Ger had a very good minor and Under-21 career. He’s a very good player and a very strong lad.
“He didn’t come through straight away but he was producing the goods in training, I suppose, really and you go with your gut instinct in players, you go with what you see in front of your eyes and that’s all there is.
“A player then gets the opportunity and you either take the opportunity or you don’t and to be fair, against Wexford, Ger took his opportunity and the next day out against Galway he had a decent game again, and he’s in the hunt to play again the next day.”
Back to transition, which many analysts spoke of in the wake of Kilkenny’s surprisingly short 2013 campaign and the emergence of Clare and Cork, both of who have flattered to deceive since.
“I never saw it that way,” said Cody when asked about the ‘changing of the tide’ some believed the 2013 Championship would catalyse.
“To me, the fundamentals are the same. The game is all about skill, speed, strength and determination– it is everything that should be required in any sport so none of those elements have changed.
“Different teams will bring different things to the table in different years and in different occasions and the challenge is there for all the other teams to bring their own systems and types of play to it. But there are no guarantees for anybody year after year. It’s all about going at it and drawing out the maximum from what you have.”
No-one has ever done it better than Brian Cody, which underlines the extent of the task facing Waterford this Sunday. And that’s why getting the better of them would mean so much.