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.