Calm leader pointing the way to the summit
Anthony Cunningham is a firm believer in the talent at his disposal in Galway and only an All-Ireland title will suffice, writes IAN O’RIORDAN
A YEAR in the life of Anthony Cunningham. Where to begin?
On the heels of Galway’s 10-point defeat to Waterford, in the All-Ireland quarter-final, to his appointment as hurling manager, dropping one-third of the panel, to condemning league champions Dublin to relegation, still doubling as Garrycastle football manager, guiding them to Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day, doubling as Galway under-21 manager too, to beating Kilkenny, a first Leinster title west of the Shannon, to an All-Ireland rematch in Croke Park.
To his life outside of hurling too – at home, just outside Kiltoom, at work, in Athlone IT, in software research, fighting for funding from Enterprise Ireland, to sitting down in an empty classroom in St Brigid’s in Loughrea to explain how on earth he finds the time.
“It’s your hobby,” he says. “You’d like it to be your job, too, because it is every day of the year, 365 days of the year, but it is totally enjoyable”
They all say it, that they wouldn’t do it if they didn’t enjoy it, yet more than most of the so-called modern managers, Cunningham seems to have found the perfect balance between the coming and the going, the pleasure and the pain.
Then he hasn’t rushed into it, either. At age 47, his own hurling days are well in the past, the minor and under-21 All-Irelands of 1983 and 1986, the back-to-back senior All-Irelands of 1987 and 1988.
Football was actually the learning ground, too, with St Brigid’s in Roscommon and then Garrycastle, and while he did manage the Roscommon hurlers for a year, in 2005, it was only when he guided Galway to the 2011 All-Ireland under-21 title that his ascendance to the senior role looked likely.
He was given a three-year term, told to take his time to get things right, which, if anything, would put him ahead of schedule.
“Well I wouldn’t say we are ahead,” he says. “Every year you start off you want to win the All-Ireland, and we knew Galway had the talent.
“What has taken us by surprise, really, is what the players have given us. Every time they trained we were amazed by their professionalism, the amount they do, and then the additional amount they do, which is unreal.
“They have wanted to learn so much, too, they have worked so hard, and have reaped the reward by reaching the final. But this is a high-stakes game, winner takes all. It is no use being second best, it is no use having a moral victory and saying, well ‘we advanced a lot this year’. That doesn’t wash.
“We took some hard decisions at the start of this year, got some criticism for it. We believed in the panel we put together, particularly that the young players coming in would advance more.”