Ger Cunningham challenges 'disrespectful' allegations in Dublin hurling row
Dublin hurling boss tells Martin Breheny that complaints from Simon Lambert are totally unjustified
The announcement last month that Dublin hurlers would be without three of the players who figured prominently in 2015 for the upcoming season produced an intriguing follow-up.
Simon Lambert and Alan Nolan, who were omitted from the 2016 squad by Ger Cunningham and his management team, took the unusual step of publicly expressing their dissatisfaction over the decision.
Meanwhile, Danny Sutcliffe, one of Dublin highest-profile performers of recent seasons, opted out of the panel, having played his last game in the Fenway Challenge against Galway in Boston in November, after which he informed the manager of his unavailability for 2016.
It was a decision which Cunningham accepted, albeit reluctantly, since he was losing a big talent. Cunningham also met Lambert and Nolan to explain the reasons for their omission.
Both later spoke of their unhappiness, with Lambert stating that "the reasons given were, in my opinion, disrespectful".
Nolan, who lost the goalkeeping position to Gary Maguire after Dublin's five-goal mauling by Galway in June, said that he was "more annoyed than anything else".
"I understand that panels change. But to be cut adrift, essentially going from No 1 to nowhere, has come as a blow and I find it puzzling," said Nolan.
Players omitted from panels usually fume in private so the decision by the Dublin pair to publicly acknowledge their frustration inevitably led to the question: what really went on?
Cunningham remained silent on the issue until yesterday when, in an exclusive interview with the Irish Independent, he outlined his take on events that have generated lots of discussion in Dublin hurling circles.
He admits to being "surprised and disappointed" by Lambert's 'disrespectful' claims, insisting that every decision - big and small - is taken solely in the interests of Dublin hurling.
"Simon said he regarded the reasons given for leaving him off the panel as disrespectful. They were not and that's a fact.
"Obviously, any player left off a panel is going to be disappointed and frustrated. But by meeting him and giving him the reasons (for his omission) I felt it would give him an opportunity to go away and work on the issues I mentioned. What transpired between me and Simon - and any other player for that matter - is private to us.
"The door is always open to him - or anyone else - for a return. It's just a decision the management has made at this point in time," said Cunningham, who also met Nolan to explain why he was being left off the panel.
As a former goalkeeper, the Corkman knows the frustrations netminders face, since they are all vying for just one position.
"I understand how Alan feels but as, as a management group, we decided we were bringing two goalkeepers for 2016 and opted for Gary (Maguire) and Conor Dooley. It's a call we made - that's what we're there for," said Cunningham.
Sutcliffe's departure was of his own volition but inevitably led to rumour.
"Danny had his own reasons for opting out and I fully respect them. Of course, it's a disappointment to lose a player like him. The thing is, I sat down with all three players to have face-to-face chats with them.
"Danny's situation was a bit different in that he was opting out for his own reasons but it was very important that I talked things through with Simon and Alan to explain my thinking.
"I understand their frustrations but management has a job to do and we would not be serving Dublin's interests to the best of our ability if we didn't go with what we thought was right.
"Change is inevitable in every panel. There are other players out there we need to look at and test out. And, of course, the door is open to every player, including Simon and Alan. The fact that Simon made those comments would never come against him. We're bigger than that," said Cunningham.
He insists too that the spat won't have a negative impact on the squad.
"That won't be an issue. The lads are very keen to get stuck into 2016. It's an important year and there's a lot of work to be done," said Cunningham, whose first New Year engagement is in the Dubs Stars challenge tomorrow.
Dublin are heading into the new season after a very mixed 2015. They beat Kilkenny, Tipperary and Galway in the league and later reached the All-Ireland quarter-final, losing to Waterford after a feisty display, but there were also some very disappointing days.
Dublin blew a big lead against Cork in the league semi-final and lost by a point but the worst defeat by far came against Galway, who demolished them in the Leinster first round replay.
"We need to get more consistency into our performances, not having one good day followed by a bad day. We had some good days last year and some difficult days too.
"The important thing was we recovered well from the bad days. The first 15 minutes against Galway in Tullamore were disastrous but we recovered well to beat Laois and Limerick and were disappointed how things turned out against Waterford because we felt it was a game we could have won," said Cunningham.
Replacing Anthony Daly was always going to be a difficult challenge but Cunningham is delighted to have taken it on.
"It was a great opportunity. Expectations are high in Dublin and that's the way it should be. Naturally, it has taken time for the players to get to know me and me to get to know them. We're through that now and really looking forward to 2016," he said.
Cunningham intends to take a more hands-on approach to coaching this year. "I'll be focusing big time on that myself. I'll be on the pitch more - I didn't do a lot of that last year," he said.
The Dubs manager has added former Newtownshandrum manager and Cork selector Patsy Morrissey, former county star Liam Walsh and Ciaran Maguire (Ballyboden St Enda's) to the backroom team for the new season.