Sunday 28 May 2017

Eight days a week

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The case of the overworked, overstretched inter-county Gaelic footballer and hurler is currently a hot topic.

The stories of pre-dawn training sessions and counties training more times than there are days in the month of January are commonplace.

Most analysis suggests that the tipping point as to what the inter-county player can do has almost been reached.

But what about the overworked, overstretched GAA manager? Can there be a busier one right now than Anthony Cunningham who, over the weekend, guided Garrycastle to a first ever All-Ireland club football final 24 hours before overseeing Connacht's advance to an inter-provincial hurling final as part of his role with Galway?

The old adage about asking a busy man to do something for you never seemed more appropriate when the Galway Hurling Board came calling, looking for a replacement for John McIntyre.

Functions

Yesterday was his 'day off' but he found himself attending two functions relating to Galway -- the Allianz launch of the hurling league in Dublin, before he spun back down the M6 to the Galway Supporters club launch for the coming season in the city at 6.0 yesterday evening.

A hectic schedule, no doubt.

"I mean, your night off could be meetings as well," he concedes, emphasising the obvious point that days off don't actually exist.

What has transpired, he admits, was never "in the script".

Only Pat O'Shea has ever found himself bound up in a club and county situation like it.

In 2007, O'Shea was in charge of the Dr Crokes team that brought Crossmaglen Rangers to an April All-Ireland club football final replay, having taken over as manager of All-Ireland champions Kerry as well.

"To be honest, this year I really didn't want to stay there (Garrycastle), but then I didn't foresee the Galway job coming," said Cunningham.

"It was hard to walk away from a team that was going for three in a row (in Westmeath) at club level.

"They've been very good to me and I'll retire with dignity on March 17 after the football game."

He admits that his presence at every gathering of club and county isn't always possible.

"We train every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday with the club and Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday with Galway," he said.

"Now we may be doing some special work with the conditioning coach on a Friday night.

"He may have 10 guys who are on a programme doing whatever or Garrycastle in the gym so it's gone to that level. I mightn't be at 100pc of them.

"The conditioning coach, for example, will work with what we call development guys who won't make the first 26 next Sunday but might two weeks later than that."

Last Saturday in Longford was difficult for him.

He lives near Kiltoom, home of St Brigid's, and managed many of the club's current players to a Connacht title in 2006.

"I was conscious of the need to go to St Brigid's dressing-room as quick as I could after Saturday's game," he said yesterday.

Being able to mix managing a club football and top inter-county hurling team illustrates a certain dexterity but also strong management acumen.

Having guided the Galway U-21s to an All-Ireland title so impressively last September it was only natural that he would turn to many of those players to build for the future, even if it meant making some very hard decisions about who to discard.

He knows that Galway hurling has been down this road before and accepts that success at U-21 level doesn't mean anything at senior level.

Galway have learned the hard way on that front.

"There has been a lot of change in Galway over the years. After 2005 I think everyone felt that if the panel was left together for another year or two they would have or could have been successful," said Cunningham.

"In the early 2000s it was the same, 2001, and back in the 1990s so I think there was quite a lot of flux there.

"I think some guys might have been rushed too soon.

"So the development of players has to happen as well. You have to take your time.

"It's not just a case of 'oh we now have this manager, it's all going to happen'. You need to have a very strong coaching and back-room team and leaders in that sphere for it to happen."

The manager is adamant that the door remains open for some of the high-profile names that were dropped within days of Cunningham, Mattie Kenny and Tom Helebert taking over.

He says they'll get their chance to find their feet again in the revamped Galway club championships.

"We would have met those guys as well and put a strong emphasis on the early leagues in Galway and early in the club championship which now kicks off in April -- we'll be watching those players," he said.

"We wouldn't probably carry them in the league because there's only 'x' amount of players you can see and there's only five matches so there's no point bringing them in and training them from early on, because they've done that (before).

"We'll be looking at every player -- Damien Joyce, Shane Kavanagh, John Lee, these players... Ger Farragher is a case in point."

Improving Galway's aerial ability, an area they fell down on badly at times last year, will be a priority, he admits.

"The aerial battle now... being able to win that is important," he said. "But it's one thing being able to do it at U-21, taking it up to the next level is the challenge.

"You don't realise it until you come across it first-hand how good, for example, the Kilkenny players are in the air and how strong Tipperary are in the air.

"You definitely need your height, athleticism and physicality in certain quarters."

Irish Independent

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