Cloonan's youthful spark fires Galway
One of Galway's finest hurlers never to win an All-Ireland inter-county medal, Eugene Cloonan, is being credited with playing a huge part in helping the Tribesmen bid for their first Liam MacCarthy Cup since 1988.
Cloonan has been one of Anthony Cunningham's selectors since last season and, as one might expect, he plays special attention to the Galway forwards.
Until recently he was the Tribesmen's all-time top scorer in championship hurling, but Joe Canning stole that mantle last season. This year more than ever we have seen Cloonan's 'shoot-on-sight' policy coming to fruition for the current crop of county hurlers.
And, according to Cunningham, Cloonan's youthful outlook is having a massive effect on the panel.
"He is sort of a modern player, really, he's played with a lot of these guys. His views and his coaching skills and his knowledge of the game have moved on with time, really. He's not an old stager, really! He's very, very smart and very intelligent and I think he's brought that intelligence he played with for Galway onto the training field and without a doubt he is highly respected.
"He has a way with the players, he creates a great environment of learning and he's a very talented man," said Cunningham.
The 2001 Galway team came as close as any to returning the Tribesmen to the steps of the Hogan Stand and Cloonan was a key force in that team.
In the knockout stages alone he fired an impressive 5-25 in three games, devoured Kilkenny in a memorable semi-final win, only to fall short in the final against Tipperary.
The current Galway youngsters grew up with Cloonan as their hero and Cunningham is keen to tap into that.
"Some would say he was young to bring in there but definitely you'd have to say that I think the mould of backroom teams has gone more youthful as well and in the last couple of years and across the board. So it's huge, really. We have Damien Curley and Pat Malone on board as well, Damien he's a full-time coach with the Connacht Council."
Curley, a Games Development officer in GMIT, says he got to know Cloonan in his time as a student in the early 2000s, where he lined out for the GMIT Fitzgibbon Cup side. Along with Malone, the trio try to ease the load on Cunningham.
"We all get on together, which is probably a good thing," said Curley.
"Eugene has made a huge contribution, no more than Pat Malone has made a massive contribution as well.
"Everybody talks about team spirit and panel spirit and everyone getting on; there are days you'll get on and days you don't but at the end of the day everyone's doing it for the good of Galway.
"We all try to make a contribution whether big or small towards achieving the ultimate," he said.