Legendary Kilkenny manager Brian Cody is facing his biggest challenge yet

The setting was the back of a trailer in Ballyhale on a Monday in September 2009.

The supporting cast was made up of the Kilkenny hurlers, manager Brian Cody and members of his backroom team, along with a scattering of County Board officials and luminaries from the local club.

And the occasion was the Cats’ homecoming following their capture of a fourth All-Ireland in a row, against Tipperary.

But there was only one star.

Tommy Walsh, who would go on to be named as Hurler of the Year, wandered on to the stage before breaking into an hilarious, free-style rap cum speech where he did a note-perfect impersonation of former Cats skipper Willie O’Connor and made fun of a Cody spat with RTE’s Marty Morrissey the day before.

A clip of Walsh’s performance was posted on YouTube and it soon received hundreds of hits.

Mysteriously, the video was removed a few weeks later and is now impossible to track down on the internet.

Not so mysterious to anyone who has worked under Cody.

Control is a big part of his message, and control helped him become the most successful manager in GAA history.

Many of his players — like Walsh — have gone on to carve out careers in the media, revealing personalities that they often kept hidden during their days in the black and amber.

That would be the Cody way. You express your personality with your hurling, everything else is noise.

Next Saturday, at Parnell Park, Cody will be back prowling the sideline for the first time in 2021.

The League game against Dublin will mark the start of his 23rd season as Kilkenny manager.

It’s more than a decade since Ger Loughnane put forward the view that Cody would have the same longevity as Sean Boylan managed with the Meath footballers.

That seemed a far-fetched notion as Boylan had 23 Championship summers in charge.

But Cody will match him this summer — and it would be no surprise if he’s still here next year, and the year after, and the year…

He is comfortably the elder statesman of hurling and many regard him as old school.

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In his autobiography, Jackie Tyrrell wrote that his belief in the work ethic is all consuming.

“You just knew you had to do things right, the way he wanted them done,” he wrote.

“Roll up your sleeves, work hard, do your job properly, do it honestly, do it for your team-mates, for your future team-mates, for future generations.”

David Herity used to keep goal for Kilkenny under Cody, and he always felt coaching was in his future.

It came from standing on his own, taking in all that was going in front of him.

It led Herity to think long and hard about the game, and he is very much his own man.

And he makes it clear that trying to ape Cody wouldn’t work out.

“When I did start a few years ago with Dublin camogie, I kind of took a lot of points from Brian that I thought were the keys to his success, which clearly weren’t,” he said.

“I wouldn’t have spent a lot of time talking to the players, I would have thought that keeping your distance was the key to success and say very little and keep them guessing and so on. But you soon find out that people don’t like that.

“I didn’t like it as a player, they don’t like it. It doesn’t work for certain players. You are modelling it on certain things that he does. Then you realise as the year goes on and the more experience you get that certain things work and certain things don’t.

“Brian is an exceptional manager. He’s a fantastic motivator, it’s just his management style is something that probably doesn’t work with some of the other teams that are out there. Brian’s (method of motivating) would have been the stick.

“Thankfully, over the last few years, I’ve decided to see that the carrot side of things, you can get just as much benefit from it aswell. It’s just trying to find a fine balance between both of them, I suppose.”

Cody is on the books of various agencies that provide guest speakers to corporate conferences.

He covers plenty of ground, but one of his favourite themes is leadership.

It’s something that is often brought up when talk turns to his current team.

The Cats no longer have the likes of JJ Delaney, Noel Hickey, Tommy Walsh, Henry Shefflin and Michael Fennelly.

TJ Reid is officer material, but are there many other on-field generals available to Cody?

It’s talk that Cody has no time for, as he feels many don’t get what leadership in hurling actually means.

“You can have a leader who will stand up and drive the whole thing in the dressing-room,” he said.

“You have leaders on the field and then you have just fellas who, as they are, how they carry themselves, the way they contribute to the determination of the whole group.”

When the golden generation of Shefflin and Co is brought up, Cody made it clear that they had to earn their spurs.

“First and foremost, they were players. They didn’t come in with ‘leader’ emblazoned on their jumper, or whatever,” he said.

“They came as players who had to fight for their place and they always saw it as that.

“You know, the great thing about it over the years was you talk about leaders in our dressing-room and very, very often they were people who weren’t starting players.

“And it was people who wouldn’t have had high profiles at all, players who would obviously have given everything to start the game.

“But, when the team was announced, they were not starting, but they still drove on the whole thing and showed terrific leadership.

“I’m not being smart by saying this, but from the outside, people can never be absolutely certain who the real leaders of the whole group are until they are actually involved within the group.”

Boylan is still revered in Meath — and hugely respected all around the country — but there is a consensus too that he stayed on too long.

That is a criticism that might well be aimed at Cody too.

He led the Cats to a remarkable 11 All-Irelands in 16 years, but there has been none since 2015.

Hardly a famine in most counties, but Kilkenny is different, and Cody is different.

But shaking up the new order in his 23rd season is a huge challenge.

Even to Cody.

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