Cunningham keeps his cool as Kilkenny boss ups the stakesSeptember 6, 2012 - 7:00am
GALWAY manager Anthony Cunningham has refused to engage in a war of words over the referee’s role with his Kilkenny counterpart, Brian Cody, before the sides meet in the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Final at Croke Park on Sunday.
All of the early questions at the Galway hurlers’ media night in Loughrea related to the role which Westmeath official Barry Kelly might play in the decider, after Cody had expressed concerns that the referee might be instructed to take an overly-strict approach following his side’s over-physical tussle with Tipperary in last month’s semi-final.
Kilkenny will have to field without midfielder Michael Rice, who sustained a crushed knuckle and lacerated ligaments in his hand in that 4-24 to 1-15 hammering of the Munster champions, as Cody leads them into a September final for the 12th time.
“I think there could be a stupid reaction now,” said Cody. “The last three All-Ireland finals were played and the game was let flow. They were outstanding games. Suddenly, there could be a crazy reaction to a couple of instances in the semi-final.”
Cody has expressed fears that a red card could be issued “for nothing” in the early stages of the final, with the GAA determined to lay down the law in the wake of the unsavoury scenes in his side’s semi-final victory.
His ruthless or relentless streak, bordering on intimidation at times, should come as no surprise to Galway supporters who witnessed his antics at first hand in a championship game at Semple Stadium as far back as 2004.
On that occasion, the Cats – who had won the 2002 and 2003 All-Irelands – were reeling from the shock of a rare Leinster championship defeat to Wexford earlier in the summer.
Cody had seen the 2001 All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Noel Lane’s physical Galway side, who had outhurled and outmuscled his team, as the turning point in his reign. Never again would his side be physically intimidated by any other team.
In 2004, he confronted the referee as he left the pitch at half-time in Thurles. He prowled around behind Liam Donoghue’s goals in the second half of that game, barking out instructions to his forwards. His side won by 19 points, exacting sweet revenge for 2001, and Cody would have felt that the end justified the means.
Cody’s men won that tie by 4-20 to 1-10, but Conor Hayes’ side famously came back to shock his men by 5-18 to 4-18 in the following year’s All-Ireland semi-final. Kilkenny have reached 13 of the last 15 finals, and it was the Tribesmen who kept them out of the other two in 2001 and 2005.
The Kilkenny manager has consistently argued that hurling his a physical game – and is clearly concerned that one of his players, seven time All-Ireland winner Tommy Walsh for example, might see a red card in Sunday’s final.
Walsh hauled Damien Hayes to the ground just 12 seconds into that 2004 All-Ireland qualifier, taking the gamble that conceding a free was a far better gamble than allowing the Tribesmen to score a morale-boosting early goal.
For more, read this week's Connacht Tribune.