Cunningham more than ready for the long road ahead
Exactly one year ago, having just beaten UCD in the Walsh Cup quarter-final, Anthony Cunningham lined up his Galway players for a series of post-match sprints, along the muddy sidelines of Belfield. It seemed a little excessive at the time. This was, after all, only January.
It was the sort of work ethic, however, that served Galway so well for the rest of their journey, in winning a historic first Leinster title, in very nearly beating Kilkenny again, in the All-Ireland final, before eventually losing out in the replay.
This Sunday, the journey begins again, in the equally humble surroundings of Dr Cullen Park, where Galway take on Carlow in another Walsh Cup quarter-final. It’s a journey that ideally will go as far as last year, the one additional stop this time being All-Ireland glory.
Cunningham knows as well as anyone the challenges of a second year in charge, the difficulties any manager faces when starting out again with high expectations, the only expectation left to go higher again.
“We have to improve”
“What matters now is how much you can build on last year. Last year is no good unless we build on it, and building on it is one more step. And both players, and managers, are going to have to handle expectation. We have to improve, that’s the bottom line. We have got to take the league seriously, firstly, to try to retain the Leinster championship, then go on and win an All-Ireland.”
Easier said than done, of course, and indeed the first thing Cunningham highlights is not just the importance of maintaining the work ethic from last year, but increasing it too, gradually turning the screw that little bit tighter.
“Of course that means we are going to put more work into training, more work into lifestyle, more work into coaching, the medical side, every aspect, the same with every team. I think the standard with every team goes up every year, that’s the way it’s gone. We have already done a lot of work in the background for the last couple of months. Psychologically, we have got to deal with those pressures, but we will be leaving all that outside our camp really, and just concentrating on our training and our games.”
What Cunningham won’t be doing is anything radically different to 2012, and why should he? Indeed he intends on working off more or less the same panel of players, with just a few additions and subtractions – the most notable ones being the return, from Australia, of forward Aonghus Callanan, plus defender Shane Kavanagh, a surprise omission last year.
“Aonghus worked in Australia for a year, and has returned basically to get on the team That’s his mantra. It’s great to see that. We hear about a lot of guys going the other way. It’s great to see guys come back to want to get on a county panel and team and go on and win an All-Ireland. They’ll be a big plus for us.”
Cunningham also has six players on college duty, with the players from newly-crowned Galway champions St Thomas (David Burke, Darragh Burke, his brother, James Regan and Conor Cooney) also focusing the club championship.
“We are confident that we will be able to build on that experience. I wouldn’t go into percentages, we just need to improve. But we would be very, very confident we have the players, and the mindset, to win this year. Of course it comes down to having the luck on the day as well. But there’s absolutely no hangover from last year. All the players, when they would have reflected on the year, they were so delighted to get what they got out of the year.”
Joe Canning agrees, suggesting most of the work done last year will stand to them: “It’s kind of in the bank from last year, so maybe we are in a better position than we were last year. It might be a bit easier to top up the fitness but it’s the same for every county. They are all at it this time of year, when you get the fitness levels and speed work up ahead of the championship. But the expectation with the Galway supporters will be greater and even the larger public it will be greater. That’s a challenge for us, I suppose, not to dwell on that too much and just carry on and trying to win games.”
Starting, all over again, this Sunday.
Former Kerry senior hurling captain Mikey Boyle, one of four Boyle brothers from Ballyduff who play with the Kingdom, looks set to miss the entire National Hurling League campaign, as well as the Christy Ring Cup, after being handed a 48-week ban, by the North Kerry Football Board. Boyle was reported by referee Eddie Barrett, after an incident in the North Kerry football championship quarter-final between Ballyduff and St Senan’s in early December, in which it was alleged that Boyle “interfered with an official” believed to be an umpire and the CCC of the North Kerry Board proposed a 48-week ban for Boyle.