Brian Cody's final moments as manager showed the respect the Kilkenny players had for him
The Kilkenny players stand there dejected. It's a tough place to gather thoughts.
Some have tears in their eyes, some are down on their hunkers just, motionless, staring at the ground in front of them and, as the crushing reality dawns, as they realise that another opportunity has slipped away, others are taking it just as badly, with hands up on the back of heads.
That's them, the Kilkenny hurlers, in a small little group on one side of the Croke Park pitch, together, united, dejected.
Brian Cody is in the middle of them. He's one of them. Words are hard to come by in situations like these, when there are no words in the world that could cheer you up, but as he walks from player to player, complimenting them on all they'd done, it seems as if he has no trouble finding the right ones. He claps them on the back then and, if only for a few moments, he doesn't seem as stone-faced as you'd expect him to be after losing an All-Ireland final.
And let's not forget, sure as anything, a tap on the back means a lot more coming from him than it does from most people.
"Kilkenny hurling goes ahead," was what he said in his interview afterwards.
We'd soon find out that with or without him was what he meant.
Dreams by the Cranberries comes on over the tannoys then and, all of a sudden, as the party starts on the other side of the field, and with the evening thing turning green and white, you can see it yourself, things are gradually becoming that little bit more unbearable for Kilkenny people.
Nobody wants to be the hard-luck story at a celebration.
It's sportsmanship and it's courtesy to respect the captain's speech though, and as Declan Hannon praises them for their spirit and their fight, and as they stand back and applaud him, that exactly what they do. Hannon's words won't have changed a thing but it's still very clear at that moment, as he looks over to see Brian Cody standing alongside his selectors Comerford and McGarry, that the Limerick captain means every word of it.
There's a lot of Limerick in Kilkenny you see, and there's a lot of Kilkenny in Limerick.
Kilkenny had served their time now, now that the speech was over, and it was time to get out of here. But the players don't move a muscle and Cody doesn't move a muscle. Maybe it's a message to bottle this feeling or maybe there's no message at all but either way, as they hung on for for five minutes longer than necessary, you could sense something in the air.
"Whatever about Kilkenny staying out for the presentation," Limerick's Niall Moran said on The GAA Hour afterwards, "they showed the most dignified, respectful way of carrying themselves in the minutes thereafter, when all they wanted to do was crawl into a hole and feel sorry for themselves, and that was led by Cody.
"I was critical of him over what happened with Shefflin but you saw what happened yesterday, he led his men, and it wasn't until he saw fit to make his way off the pitch, that Kilkenny the players left too."
REACTION: A disappointed @KilkennyCLG manager, Brian Cody, was nevertheless proud of the character his team showed in today's narrow All-Ireland SHC Final defeat to @LimerickCLG. #GAABelong pic.twitter.com/OQjZwRdS5N
— The GAA (@officialgaa) July 17, 2022
And that was how it all ended.
Cody threw his hand out and beckoned his players towards him, to follow him into the dressing room, and one by one, they followed the man that has led them for as long as they can remember.
It was mostly Limerick fans in the stadium at this stage and it was a credit to them when they stood up to give the Kilkenny players a standing ovation off the pitch.
Brian Cody was at the receiving end of that ovation. And that was how it was. The last time he walked down the Croke Park tunnel.