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'Win for Brian and you're made for life, lose and he'll hold it against you'

Across seven years of hurling with Kilkenny, David Herity worked his way from third, through seco...

'Win for Brian and you're made...

'Win for Brian and you're made for life, lose and he'll hold it against you'

Across seven years of hurling with Kilkenny, David Herity worked his way from third, through second and on to first choice goalkeeper before being thrown all the way back down again. Here's his story as told to Off The Ball.  

I. "You're too old, you're too old"

David Herity knew he’d have a decision to make at the end of 2013.

The first choice 'keeper in Kilkenny's All-Ireland winning teams of 2011 and '12, he had been cast aside after Brian Cody expressed a preference for the 23-year-old Eoin Murphy at the year's outset.

Even as Kilkenny suffered their earliest championship exit in 17 years with Murphy in goal, there no sense the boss would be coming cap-in-hand to Herity looking to start anew.

No, after years spent chasing his spot culminated in two uninterrupted years as Cody’s first choice, the 30-year-old Herity would have to fight for the jersey all over again.

“Brian had already started playing me outfield in training,” he explained of the stumbling blocks Cody erected for him to test Herity’s patience further.

“He was trying to suss out what way I would turn because he had given me some kick up the arse dropping me like he did. But look, there’s loads of testing that goes on with Brian and while certain players just never cop onto it, I kept my head and just kept a smile on my face.”

Truthfully, the All-Ireland win in '12 had masked some performance issues for Herity. In Eoin Murphy, a supremely promising young man who had soaked up everything the incumbent had to teach him, there was a goalkeeper worthy of a chance at least.

While Herity was quick to acknowledge mistakes he had made though, Brian Cody hadn’t said much at all. The first choice ‘keeper who became occasionally Kilkenny’s third man the following year, he had been left twisting in the wind.

“On the last session of 2013 then before Cork knocked us out in the quarter-final,” he recalled, “there was this As vs Bs match in Nowlan Park and I was put back in goal for the Bs.

“Honestly, I had one of the games of my life and we beat the As which probably tells you why we lost to Cork. Anyway, as Brian was leaving the dressing-room that evening he just stopped at the door and pointed at me. ‘Excellent.’ Then he just walked out.

“I turned to Cillian Buckley and Pádraig Walsh on my left and they were just looking me. ‘Holy fuck! Did he just say that to me?’ It honestly kept me buzzing the whole winter of 2013 then.

"But Brian just had this ability to turn you from a zero into a hero just like that. But there was a bit of a Stockholm Syndrome feel to it, to be fair.”

David Herity

Kilkenny hurlers of the Brian Cody era have enjoyed the mixed fortune of a few certainties.

All-Ireland medal(s) come to those who can hold down a place on the panel. Furthermore, if you prove your worth you will get a chance to play.

On the flip side, Cody’s meritocracy informs the one absolute truth each and every player must accept: Kilkenny owes you absolutely nothing. Ask not what you can do for Brian Cody because he will tell you when he’s ready. And when your time is up, get out of the way.

Had he not had some experience of Cody’s methods, the steep fall from favour in 2013 would have broken him as David Herity had seen it break others. Buoyed by one remark, he approached 2014 enthusiastically.

Nevertheless, with four All-Ireland medals to his name and a body that was starting to lag despite the mind’s best intentions, he had decided himself that this would be his final year with Kilkenny. This definite end afforded him a fresh perspective on things. A plainly astute reader of hurling and people, he operated in his final year more keenly aware of the games Cody played.

“He brought me in for a meeting with himself, Martin Fogarty and Mick Dempsey,” recalled the 'keeper of an early sit-down with management in his final year. “I was talking away with the lads about my fitness and how I was going, and they seemed happy enough like.

“As we were chatting away then, Brian, who was kind of sat away at the end of the table starts kind of whispering away to himself. ‘You’re too old, Herity, you’re too old.’ I looked over but he just sort of looked down and starting smiling.

“I looked back at the lads to see if they had heard him but no and things went on again. ‘You’re too old, you’re too old.’ Again, I looked over at him and he just had the head down straight away.”

In his role as Kilkenny’s GPA rep, David Herity was back in front of Cody again not too long after. Innocently enough (he insists), Herity had organised a meeting for the players to hear what the association had to offer them. Significantly, Cody had not been told about it.

“I didn’t think it had to be said,” he explained, “but I got this text message during the meeting from Brian to come over and chat with him and the lads afterwards.

“Now, I was fucking flying it in training, and this was just before we kicked off the championship against Offaly, so, I was thinking to myself that I’m going to be back in the running to start.

“That’s not quite what happened though. ‘What was the meeting? Who organised it? Who was there?’ I told him everything exactly as it was. ‘What did the GPA want to talk about?’

“I just told him that they outlined what they offer between helping lads going to college, or maybe if they were retiring and that. Quick as you like then, he just goes, ‘Oh, I’d say you’re interested in that alright.’ It was odd.”

A little confused but undeterred, Herity was determined to use his final year to Kilkenny’s advantage.

If Eoin Murphy was first choice, Herity would do all that he could to ensure that the younger man was ready for anything. In a panel where the age-divide was keeping certain groups of players apart, he arranged impromptu team-bonding events and got the WhatsApp group going nice and early.

“I just came in with such a positive attitude because I wanted to go out with a bang,” he admitted, “or at least to go out enjoying myself. The best team I was ever a part of in terms of the fun and the craic was that 2014 team.”

Objectively, his inter-county career would end in much the same way as it had begun; watching from the bench as his teammates put an All-Ireland medal in his pocket.

It didn’t tell the full story, however.

“You don’t want to have too many winners’ medals when you’re not playing,” he allowed for the first two he won from the bench in 2008 and ‘09, “but 2014 meant a huge amount to me. I know I didn’t play the final, but I had played in the big games before then.

“When Eoin went down against Galway in the Leinster semi and Brian turned to me on the bench and said, ‘Herro, you’re in’, that was probably my proudest moment with Kilkenny.

"It just showed me that when it came down it, he really fucking did have confidence in me.”


II. "Cost Brian a game and he'll hold it against you"

It was a circuitous route David Herity had travelled to earn his place on the Kilkenny panel in 2008.

Whereas Jackie Tyrrell, JJ Delaney, Tommy Walsh, and other contemporaries of his from the All-Ireland U21s of 2003 hadn’t long to wait for senior recognition, Herity, who was briefly called up to the extended panel for that year’s National League, wasn’t considered ready.

“I was frustrated that I wasn’t in there earlier than ’08,” he admitted, “But in a way, I was happy enough not being there because I’d have spent years being the third choice ‘keeper, doing all this training for no games. I think that would have knocked the stuffing out of me.

“Even when I did come in behind PJ Ryan and James McGarry in 2008, it was a farce like. I must have played in about three training sessions for the whole year. You had McGarry taking on PJ, PJ holding off McGarry, and then myself standing on the sideline.”

At 25, when Herity’s time had come it surprised even him somewhat. Evidence of Brian Cody’s unshakeable faith in the club championship to sort players from posers, Herity’s performances with Dunnamaggin were enough for the Kilkenny manager.

Although he didn't know it then (and would doubt it later), he had passed the first test.

“He has to like you first and foremost,” acknowledged Herity of a process that doesn’t put too much of a burden on talent initially. “There are a lot of supremely gifted hurlers in Kilkenny who never made it because Cody didn’t see that work ethic on the pitch when they were with their club.

“He fucking hates lads that won’t work. Once you’re doing the work in training, so long as you’re running, hooking, and blocking for the team, you always have a chance. But if you sulked or dragged things down, you’re gone.”

Once you met these criteria and justified your existence in Cody’s plans, capitalising upon it then was a different matter.

David Herity

“Nobody ever really comments on this,” referenced Herity of Cody’s core principle, “but if you win a game for Brian, you’re made for life. If you cost him a game, he’ll hold it against you.

“Look at Richie Hogan, right. In the 2009 National League final, Richie hit a long range free to draw the game at the very end and that kind of gave Cody trust in him. He had the balls to step up and Cody put a huge onus on that.

“For Richie’s brother Paddy then, it was the opposite. He was the only one dropped off the panel after 2013 after he’d had a sort of off-day against Dublin and we lost the game. That was the end of Paddy, he never played for Brian again.

“Now, believe me, Paddy was not worst player there that year and maybe he could have done things differently himself. But instead of coaching that and maybe having a chat, Brian just got rid of him. Paddy is still one of the best catchers and strikers of a ball in Kilkenny, like.”

As Herity moved from third choice to second and on into contention for a starting spot by 2011, he became of greater interest to Cody. With all the determination of a man facing into his 28th birthday and still fighting for serious senior recognition, he welcomed the increased scrutiny.

By his own admission, a stubborn streak is one trait Herity shares with the Kilkenny manager. Throughout a training weekend in Carton House, that become apparent to Cody too.

“I just found myself roaring at Lester Ryan,” he recalled of a drill designed to deal with high balls into the square. “I was just giving out. ‘Puck the ball in like a normal person, Lester! Stop with these Garryowens.’

“Brian came over to me afterwards then. ‘What’s wrong with you, David? There’s always something fucking wrong with you.’ I told him that the drill wasn’t being done right, that Lester had listened, and the drill improved.

“He took this step back then, a little bit surprised like, and just talked to me normally again. The next day then, he came over where I was and starting pucking around with me. I don’t think I’d ever even seen him pick up a hurl at training before!

“He would have been thinking though, ‘Jesus, this lad answered me back. He has same some balls and I can work with that.’ You had to prove yourself to Brian.”


III. "2012 was just such a bastard of a year"

David Herity doesn’t call upon many big saves when he assesses the two years where he was Kilkenny’s first choice goalkeeper.

In one regard, the feeling of success is bound up within the struggle to get that point. To remain patient and earn Brian Cody’s confidence, that has been tantamount to winning All-Ireland medals for the last two decades.

Yet, there is a cynicism there that he can’t quite shake off also. Yes, five All-Ireland medals are about five times what most hurlers want from life, but what’s it really worth in a team where everyone has their share?

“It didn’t go the way I wanted it to go,” he admitted of his spell as Kilkenny’s goalkeeper. “I wanted man-of-the-match in an All-Ireland final, the few All-Stars, the big saves in big games and fuck it, yeah, I wanted the Laochra Gael.

“That’s just me though, I’m never happy. People say to me, ‘Oh, you’ve five All-Ireland medals, that’s class’. I’d wince at that, really.”

David Herity

Apart from conversations like these, his inter-county career remains vivid only within those chats that are had among old teammates on the  WhatsApp group. With his passion for hurling, it wasn’t surprising that Tommy Walsh gave him cause to reconsider his career during the lockdown months.

“He was watching back the old All-Ireland finals,” he revealed of Walsh’s recent nostalgia, “and telling the lads in the group about where they had played well. ‘Jesus, Herro, you must be proud of that save you made in 2012.’

“To be honest, I couldn’t even remember what save he meant. I went and looked back because I’ve never watched that game back, but 2012 was just such a bastard of a year. Anytime I didn’t anything right there was something that went wrong.”

It is difficult to know for sure whether David Herity was perfectly made Kilkenny or is a product of the system created by the man behind it all.

Beyond memories of what happened on the field (and even these, when they come up, tend to be of mistakes made), that essential competitive edge he possessed seemed focused more often than not on his struggle to impress Brian Cody.

Success is in the eye of the beholder but Herity, however better he thinks things could have been, didn’t leave much behind him in that particular battle. Although there would be no hassle with making small talk all these years after the manager/player dynamic has vanished, he would hesitate to call Brian Cody his friend all the same.

In those final weeks of his time as a Kilkenny hurler, the injury sustained by Eoin Murphy in a Leinster semi-final provided Herity with an opportunity to go out with the bang he had wanted. Against Dublin in the provincial decider and Limerick in an All-Ireland semi-final, he showed himself capable still of playing in crunch championship games.

With the end in sight, the upcoming final against Tipperary would be his curtain-closer one way or another. For a few moments after that defeat of Limerick in the rain, he’d even allowed himself to imagine that his place in the starting XV was now secured.

“Anyone with a bit of sentiment would have played me in that final,” he claimed, “but the fact was that I wasn’t fully ready and hadn’t been going as well as Eoin in training when he came back.

“Brian saw all that and absolutely did the right thing in dropping me again.”

As with many before him and plenty more since, David Herity knew the conditions of his existence in Brian Cody’s plans and he asked no questions.

Kilkenny had extracted what was needed of him and it was time to walk away. He is walking still.

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David Herity GAA Henry Shefflin Hurling Kilkenny