Brian Cody was ratified as the Kilkenny senior hurling manager on the 16th of November 1998.
11 All-Irelands, 18 Leinster Championships and 10 National League titles later, it’s fair to say that the appointment of Cody was nothing short of inspired.
His long-lasting legacy once he finally decided to call time on the undisputed greatest managerial reign in GAA history is that of a man who oversaw Kilkenny teams that have left countless memories to last a lifetime for people both within and outside of the county.
For Kilkenny supporters who have been lucky enough to witness the Cody era from the beginning, the vast majority of memories will stem from particular victories over the last 24 years or so. Most have given up on counting the number of times that Kilkenny have gotten the better of their opponents over the course of 70 minutes, but they have certainly come out on top more times than they have suffered defeat since 1998.
We thought we’d take a look back on the great man’s inter-county managerial career and pick his 10 greatest victories in charge of Kilkenny.
10. Leinster Final 2020 – Kilkenny 2-20 – 0-24 Galway
First up we have Cody’s latest victory in the championship. Only two of Kilkenny’s successful sixteen provincial title deciders under Cody’s stewardship have made this list. So, why does this particular cold night in November make the cut? Well, there are two specific reasons why its inclusion is imperative.
Firstly, it ended Kilkenny’s longest spell without a trophy under Cody. Never before had the Cats gone more than two years without a piece of silverware during Cody’s trophy laden era in charge. However, in the build up to this game there had been murmurings of a drought for years to come if they could not get over the line. In Kilkenny it’s pretty simple: the standard bearer is the All-Ireland and anything less is seen as a disappointment. Despite this, a first Leinster title since a 2016 defeat of Galway was almost a necessity to bring the winning feeling back to the county if for nothing else. Put simply, there are four trophies available in intercounty hurling: league, provincial (Leinster and Munster) and All-Ireland. In 2020 Limerick won three and Kilkenny, by defeating Galway, took home the Bob O’Keeffe Cup. Claiming his sixteenth Leinster Championship was no mean feat by Cody and his men and in many ways salvaged the season.
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The second reason that Kilkenny’s 2020 Leinster final is one of Cody’s greatest victories is the nature of the win itself. After a dismal second half display against Dublin in which Kilkenny relinquished a 16-point lead only to crawl over the line by a single point (2-22 – 3-20), the Cats came into their fourth decider in six years with the Tribesmen as clear underdogs. It seemed even more unlikely that Kilkenny would win considering they had not got the better of Galway in the championship since 2016.
Kilkenny rarely looked like getting any sort of foothold in the game throughout the course of the seventy minutes but in true Cody fashion never gave in and constantly remained within touching distance of Shane O’Neill’s men. The game was going in only one direction twenty minutes into the second half when Jason Flynn made it 0-20 – 0-15 in favour of Galway. While the never-say-die attitude was a testament to the values that Cody has instilled in all his teams, what was to come was Cody at his managerial best. He identified that the game was quickly becoming a one-sided affair and intervened in the most spectacular of fashions. He summoned Kilkenny legend Richie Hogan from the bench and with it turned the game on its head. Two goals, one an exceptional piece of skill from the substitute and another from one of Cody’s greatest players, TJ Reid, in less than two minutes pushed Kilkenny into the lead. While Galway responded well, Kilkenny secured arguably their greatest provincial victory since the turn of the century with the help of a further two points from Hogan. Without Cody Kilkenny would not have won the match. His impact on the game was there for all to see and for that, Kilkenny’s Leinster final win over Galway in 2020 has made our list.
9. All-Ireland Semi-Final 2008 – Kilkenny 1-23 – 0-17 Cork
One could deem this to be a peculiar choice. Kilkenny have been involved in far more entertaining games and have performed much better pre and post their 2008 All-Ireland semi-final success. This particular fixture between two giants of the game is not one that especially stands out in their long list of showdowns since 1999. It was not included for its quality or the heart that both sides portrayed. It’s not here because it had everyone on the edge of their seats right until the final whistle. It is not a game that lived long in the memory or has been talked about much in the years that have passed. Despite all this, we simply could not exclude this game from a list of Cody’s greatest victories. The reason being, it is one of the most significant games not just of Cody’s reign, but of the modern hurling era.
Kilkenny won this game with relevant ease. Cork were equal to everything the All-Ireland champions had to throw at them in the first twenty minutes, but come the end they were dismantled by a far more efficient outfit. 0-11 from Henry Shefflin (6f), 1-02 from eventual Hurler of the Year Eoin Larking and 0-05 from Aidan Fogarty along with a string of other scores saw Kilkenny comfortably seal a place in the All-Ireland final and with it set up a shot at three consecutive All-Ireland Championships.
If you take a step back and look at the importance of this game from a purely logical and cold point of view, it’s clear that it was a game that had ramifications not just for both teams, but also long-term for hurling in both counties. Much like Kilkenny in 2006, Cork had a golden opportunity to stop Kilkenny in their tracks. If Cork had overcome Kilkenny and then proceeded to defeat Waterford in the 2008 final they would have claimed three All-Irelands in comparison to Kilkenny’s two in the previous five years. They could have feasibly been the dominant side or at least equals of the 2000s had they found a way past Cody’s men in ’08. This may seem far fetched and overtly outlandish in hindsight, but sport hinges on specific moments and Kilkenny stood up when it mattered. Cork did not, and the rest is history.
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Not only did Kilkenny continue their unparalleled dominance by dispatching of Cork, they also potentially stopped the resurgence of their closest rivals in terms of All-Ireland success both in the immediate and long-term future. The great Cork team that featured legends of the game such as Diarmuid O’Sullivan, Donal Og Cusack, Sean Og O hAilpin, Joe Deane, the O’Connor brothers and many more would never again get anywhere near an All-Ireland victory. This defeat truly marked the end of that Cork team and Cody had put one of his fiercest foes to the sword one too many times for them to ever make a resurgence.
This defeat of Cork has also had serious implications for Cork hurling that can be seen to this day. While of course there has been other issues that have hurt the sport in the Rebel County before and since 2008, the breakdown and eventual dismantling of that team in some ways stemmed from ’08 and the scars are there for all to see. Cork have made one All-Ireland final since 2006, in 2013 when they eventually lost out to Clare in a replay. Their underage set up has been left behind and there have been multiple debacles off the pitch that have left people involved in hurling in the county red-faced. In addition, Cork have not tasted All-Ireland success since 2005. Sixteen years without hurling’s most sought after prize for a county with the tradition and history of Cork is simply not acceptable and nowhere near the required standard.
All the troubles that have plagued Cork hurling over the last decade and a half or so are not due to one defeat. That would be a far too simplistic standpoint on the issues that have led to the deterioration of their senior county side. However, Cody certainly built a team that helped in accelerating their downfall and they put the final nail in the coffin in their 2008 All-Ireland semi-final victory. Without a doubt, one of the most important wins of the Cody era.
8. Leinster Final 1999 – Kilkenny 5-14 – 1-16 Offaly
The one that started it all. Kilkenny’s humbling defeat of Offaly in the 1999 Leinster final saw Brian Cody claim his first piece of silverware as Kilkenny manager. And that is exactly why this game must make this list.
It does not matter what sport or what competition it is, the first trophy for any new management team is absolutely critical. It not only gets the supporters, who in Kilkenny have particularly high standards, onside, but more importantly it proves to the players that the team is heading in the right direction.
This provincial final saw two of the greatest hurlers of all time shine at Croke Park as Kilkenny gained revenge for their agonising defeat against the same opposition in the 1998 All-Ireland final. DJ Carey scored 2-04 and Henry Shefflin got 1-06 for himself as Kilkenny homed in an unprecedented era of provincial dominance that has only begun to wane in the last number of years.
In some ways this marked the beginning of the end for Offaly’s golden generation, highlighted by the fact that they have not claimed provincial or All-Ireland success since 1998. However, the significance of this game is not what it meant for Offaly, but rather what it led to for Kilkenny and particularly Cody. This was the beginning of the journey back to hurling’s top table. The barren and painful spell of the ‘90s had come to an end and Kilkenny once again had a manager that anyone involved in Kilkenny hurling could safely put their trust in.
The first trophy is always the most difficult and equally most important one to win. By getting over the line in Leinster, Cody showed that he had brought his intense winning mentality as a player into management, something that has never left any Kilkenny team since. The first trophy of a trophy-laden era was a non-negotiable when it came to placing Kilkenny’s 1999 Leinster success in the top 10.
7. All-Ireland Final 2000 – Kilkenny 5-15 – 1-14 Offaly
This makes the list for the exact same reason as the 1999 Leinster final. It was a first. The only reason it pips that game to the seventh place is because it was a first All-Ireland.
Ultimately, Cody was given the job to end Kilkenny’s wait for an All-Ireland victory. By the time the first final of the century came around the Cats had gone seven years without bringing the Liam McCarthy Cup back to Noreside. For a county like Kilkenny, where hurling plays second fiddle to nothing else, seven years is an almighty drought. There was an element of trepidation that the longer they went without an All-Ireland, the more difficult it would become to actually get there. That is why this game was so important. The victory eclipses anything of personal note for Cody himself as it finally saw Kilkenny claim the holy grail.
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It is a lazy argument to suggest that Kilkenny are too big to have an extended period of time without an All-Ireland title. Cork have gone 16 years without climbing the steps of the Hogan Stand at the end of the season. Galway went without being crowned the best team in Ireland for 29 years before their 2017 success. Limerick had to wait 45 years until 2018 and Waterford last won the All-Ireland in 1959. These counties have a rich history but that did not and has not stopped them from failing to get the one that they all crave so desperately.
For Kilkenny hurling the 2000 All-Ireland victory was critical. It not only saw them end a prolonged spell without an All-Ireland, but it also secured Cody’s place as the right man to lead his county for at least the next number of years. It single-handedly brought a level of confidence back to a county and a team that had been short of it for too long. Cody and Kilkenny have never looked back since meaning that this was an absolute must in any list of Brian Cody’s greatest victories as Kilkenny manager.
6. All-Ireland Final 2008 – Kilkenny 3-30 – 1-13 Waterford
This was the best hurling team to ever grace the hallowed turf of Croke Park at their undisputed peak. The games listed before this were good Kilkenny performances, but it was the wide-ranging implications of those victories that forced us into selecting them. This was different though.
Of course, to win any All-Ireland takes untold levels of dedication, skill and coordination from team and management. To win three-in-a-row is, in the words of Cody himself, “madness”. This was of course a significant victory in that sense. However, it was also one of Kilkenny’s greatest victories for the sheer quality of the performance.
If Kilkenny had defeated a team early in the league or championship by a similar scoreline it would look ominous for their challengers for the remainder of the season irrespective of the standard of the opponent. To win by that margin in the biggest game of them all was and remains unheard of in the modern era.
It was Kilkenny at their absolute best. Calm and collected, unphased by anything Waterford had to throw at them. 2-04, 0-08 and 1-04 from Eddie Brennan, Henry Shefflin and Eoin Larkin were the standout scorers on a day when Kilkenny equalled the all-time highest score in an All-Ireland final of 39 points (Cork scored 6-21 in their victory over Wexford in 1970). The Kilkenny team of 2008 could have conceivably claimed all 15 All Stars and nobody could have had any qualms about it whatsoever.
What makes this performance all the more impressive is that they were facing a team that had been building towards this moment for the years previous. Waterford’s starting 15 that day included legends of the game such as Tony Browne, Ken McGrath, Dan Shanahan and John Mullane. Their whole panel were more than capable of beating any team and were deservedly in the top two of hurling teams at the time. But they were so far from being the best. Kilkenny proved that in ’08 and it was a truly astonishing performance that has not been since in the decider.
This was peak Brian Cody and Kilkenny. On September 7, 2008 people at home and in Croke Park bared witness to the greatest team of all time playing at their absolute optimum level. It was the day Kilkenny went ahead of Cork in the All-Ireland winning category as they claimed their 31st title. And it is more than deserving to be on the list of Brian Cody’s greatest victories as the manager of Kilkenny.
5. All-Ireland Final 2009 – Kilkenny 2-22 – 0-23
The second half of this list is where it becomes very difficult to decipher between what win was more meaningful and consequential than another. The completion of Kilkenny’s four-in-a-row of All-Ireland Championships could possibly be higher, much higher, but it could not be placed ahead of the next four games in our books.
Having said that, it was another truly exceptional performance under Cody. A Tipperary side featuring the likes of Eoin Kelly, Lar Corbett, Noel McGrath, Pádraic Maher, Shane McGrath, Seamus Callanan and many more high-class hurlers threw everything they had at Kilkenny. And it looked as though it would be enough to bring Kilkenny’s reign as the undisputed best team in Ireland to an end. But it wasn’t enough. The man Cody had built his teams around since his first game in charge ten years prior stood up when he was needed most. After Richie Power was fouled inside the area with eight minutes of normal time remaining, Henry Shefflin stepped up to power the sliotar past Brendan Cummins and give Kilkenny a one-point lead. It was the key moment of the game and Shefflin and Kilkenny were rarely found wanting when the pressure was on. Substitute Martin Comerford added another goal almost immediately after and Kilkenny were All-Ireland champions yet again.
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It was cruel on a Tipp side who put in a more than valiant effort. There was something about the closing stages of this game where Kilkenny turned a two-point deficit into a five-point win in the space of ten minutes that speaks volume of the levels of belief Cody had flowing through his team at the time. They were staring down the barrel of defeat and simply refused to accept it. It was the greatest show of character from a Brian Cody up to that point and it came on the biggest stage of them all. It quite simply has to be considered one of Cody’s greatest victories.
4. All-Ireland Final 2014 (replay) – Kilkenny 2-17 – 2-14 Tipperary
There is a strong argument to be made that this is the single biggest influence Brian Cody has ever had on a game throughout his entire spell as Kilkenny manager. The Cats came into the 2014 All-Ireland final replay on the back of one of the greatest games Croke Park has ever seen as Kilkenny and Tipperary played out a truly magnificent 3-22 – 1-28 draw on a sun-drenched Sunday in the capital. The match was ludicrously open and played into Eamon O’Shea’s forward driven side more so than Cody’s talented but more robust outfit. For the neutral it was a pulsating 70 minutes of a sport being played at its purest. For Cody it was too close for comfort.
The James Stephens man made sure that the second outing less than three weeks later would be a much tighter and cagey affair while simultaneously providing the platform for his forwards to flourish. He made two changes from the starting 15 in the drawn game, with Kieran Joyce and John Power coming in for Brian Hogan and Walter Walsh respectively.
This was the first key decision that Cody got right. John Power scored 1-01 in the replay. The man he replaced Walter Walsh scored a single point in the first game. Kilkenny won by three points. Sometimes it’s as simple as that. The inclusion of Joyce over one of Kilkenny’s greatest servants in Brian Hogan brought an extra level of physicality to the spine of Kilkenny that was key in helping them dominate in the air and claim second balls at a much more frequent rate than they had managed in the first game. The change in personnel was critical in ensuring Kilkenny had an extra edge that was lacking in the drawn game.
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The second decision that was possibly the reason Kilkenny won the replay was the contrast in the tactical set up from the drawn game. Whereas they simply went head-to-head in a 15v15 clash in the first encounter, Cody made sure that his team would be far more pragmatic come the replay. He used the physicality of Michael Fennelly, Colin Fennelly, Conor Fogarty and Kieran Joyce in the middle of the pitch to stop Tipperary’s supply chain into their full forward line. This is where Cody highlighted his knowledge of the game more so than at any other moment during his time in charge of the Cats. Many argued that Kilkenny’s failure in the first game was their inability to stop the Tipperary full forward line of Noel McGrath, Seamus Callanan and Lar Corbett. Cody realised that stopping players of that quality was a near impossible task. As a result, he decided that the best way to minimise their impact was by not allowing them to get the ball. Kilkenny managed to disturb the Tipperary half back line and midfield from getting good quality ball into their forwards. This cut their scoring power and Kilkenny’s forwards done enough to get over the line.
Cody’s nous and experience were the single biggest advantages that Kilkenny had in two evenly contested games. Without him marshalling his troops Tipperary would most likely have been crowned the 2014 All-Ireland champions. Cody at his absolute best.
3. All-Ireland Semi-Final 2019 – Kilkenny 1-21 – 2-17 Limerick
This Kilkenny performance had Brian Cody’s mark all over it: passion, work rate, determination, precision, discipline and countless other traits that Kilkenny supporters have become used to over the last 22 years. Kilkenny came into this game as heavy underdogs. They were facing the National League, Munster and All-Ireland champions after all. There was little to no expectation that Kilkenny would be able to go toe-to-toe with a team as formidable as Limerick and come out the other end with their Al-Ireland hopes in anything other than tatters. But Cody refused to accept his fate and had clearly prepared his players to reach a level that they had not got close to since their last All-Ireland victory four years prior.
Kilkenny won the game in the first quarter. They led by nine points midway through the first half with the help of an excellently taken Colin Fennelly goal. Limerick showed their class throughout the remainder of the game, but they had left themselves with too much to do as Kilkenny eventually limped over the line, albeit it with a thoroughly deserved victory.
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The intensity level reached an all-time peak for Cody’s youthful team and they truly came of age against the All-Ireland champions. While Kilkenny did not go on to win the All-Ireland, losing out to Tipperary in the final, this win was a landmark one for Cody. Since the All-Ireland series in 2018 Limerick have won every competition that they entered with one exception: the 2019 All-Ireland. Kilkenny defeated the best team hurling has seen since, well, Kilkenny themselves.
There are not enough words to give justice to Kilkenny’s performance against the Treaty County. It was truly sensational, and it was a testament to the influence of the Kilkenny manager that he had a less talented team at his disposal than his counterpart John Kiely but still found a way to win. To instill that level of belief in a group of players takes a very unique personality. Cody certainly has that and his role in this win was there for all to see in Croke Park two years ago.
2. All-Ireland Final 2011 – Kilkenny 2-17 – 1-16 Tipperary
This game goes under the radar when people speak about the trilogy of All-Ireland finals between the two counties from 2009-2011. ’09 was the four-in-a-row and ’10 saw the end of the ‘drive for five’, but this was of at least equal significance as the games that preceded it. There was talk from many circles that Tipperary were the new force to be reckoned with and were in perfect condition to dominate the 2010s in a similar fashion to Kilkenny’s stranglehold on the 2000s. They had just stopped Kilkenny in their tracks in the most astonishing of circumstances and their U21 side also won the All-Ireland six days after the senior success. For the first time in five years Kilkenny were no longer the only team to be feared.
The question on everyone’s lips heading into the 2011 intercounty season was whether Kilkenny would have the hunger to come back for more after such a monumental defeat one year previously. After all, they had won everything around them for so long. Why would they even feel the need to not just maintain, but increase their level of hunger and dedication to climb the mountain yet again?
Once again, Cody’s ability to motivate his players would play a huge part in Kilkenny’s resurgence following the disappointment of 2010. He had been building for this moment and it had finally arrived. Kilkenny had a chance to claim sweet revenge against their neighbours.
The 2011 final felt like a crossroads for both teams and for hurling itself. For Tipperary, a win would cement their place as the new top dogs in the sport and banish talk of them being one-hit wonders. From a Kilkenny point of view, a win would allow them to build a platform to be successful post their four-in-a-row winning team. It was a majorly significant moment and as is always the case Cody refused to let the moment pass him by.
Goals from Michael Fennelly and Richie Hogan sent Kilkenny on their way and they held off Tipperary to claim a crucial victory that began a new spell of success for the Cats with four All-Ireland wins in five years.
Cody’s talent lies in getting the best out of his players. The fact that he could do it so soon after such a low for himself and the county as a whole one year earlier proves that his leadership skills are unquestionably the best the game has ever seen. Kilkenny’s 2011 win put a halt to their biggest rivals since Cork and extended their reign as the best team in the land. One of the standout moments of Cody’s time in charge of Kilkenny.
1. All-Ireland Final 2006 – Kilkenny 1-16 – 1-13 Cork
This is indisputable. All the historical moments and unparalleled success that was to come after 2005 stemmed from this victory. There is no doubt that Kilkenny would have achieved a great deal if they had lost this game, but it is almost impossible to envisage eight All-Irelands in ten years had they not defeated Cork in the 2006 decider.
It is easy to forget that Cork were on the cusp of winning their third consecutive All-Ireland in 2006, a feat that had last been achieved by the Rebel County themselves from 1976 – 1978. They were the favourites before the ’06 final and if they had navigated a path to victory the next ten years may have panned out a lot differently. Three-in-a-row is an incredible accomplishment, and they would have been the team that everyone would have dreaded coming up against. Similar to 2011, this was a crossroads for both sides. Had Cork won they could easily have been the team of the 2000s and provided a platform for hurling in the county to prosper long after players of that era hung up their boots. For Kilkenny, a win would not only see them become the best yet again, but it would also put an end to Cork’s dominance. The stakes could not have been any higher.
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0-08 from talisman Henry Shefflin and 1-03 for corner forward Aidan Fogarty ensured Cody had his fourth All-Ireland as a manager. His team turned up when it counted most. This was the game that is the defining moment of Cody’s career and Kilkenny hurling in the last fifteen years. Think of all the trophies, moments and victories that came after it. Would we be looking back on the all-conquering side that Kilkenny supporters and neutrals alike will be talking about for decades to come? Or would Kilkenny have had modest success taking into account the players that were at their disposal? It may seem far-fetched, but sport is reliant on moments to shape both its past and its future. Cody and Kilkenny stood tall when it mattered most.
The greatest manager in hurling history has had many, but the 2006 All-Ireland defeat of Cork ranks as the greatest victory of his long and illustrious spell in charge of Kilkenny.
All-Ireland Final 2002 – Kilkenny 2-20 – 0-19 Clare
All-Ireland Final 2003 – Kilkenny 1-14 – 1-11 Cork
All-Ireland Final 2007 – Kilkenny 2-19 – 1-15 Limerick
All-Ireland Semi-Final 2012 – Kilkenny 4-24 – 1-15 Tipperary
All-Ireland Final 2012 (replay) – Kilkenny 3-22 – 3-11 Galway
All-Ireland Qualifier 2013 – Kilkenny 0-20 – 1-14 Tipperary
All-Ireland Semi-Final 2014 – Kilkenny 2-13 – 0-17 Limerick
All-Ireland Semi-Final 2016 (replay) – Kilkenny 2-19 – 2-17 Waterford
All-Ireland semi-final 2022 – Kilkenny 2-26 to 0-20 Clare