Monday 26 September 2016

Inevitable end as Cunningham fires hard parting shot

Galway hurling manager had nowhere to turn once players publicly re-affirmed their level of opposition

Published 17/11/2015 | 02:30

Strikingly three players who had no confidence in Anthony Cunningham’s management were still willing to play for him
Strikingly three players who had no confidence in Anthony Cunningham’s management were still willing to play for him

What's the difference between Mayo and Galway?

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That question has been asked at quite regular intervals over the last seven weeks since an overwhelming majority of Galway hurlers expressed a lack of confidence in Anthony Cunningham's management and informed their county board officers that they wanted change.

A week earlier, Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly heard the same expression of no faith from their players and by the Friday night they had read the signs and were gone.

The general consensus was that they had done the right thing, cut their losses and saved their county board, and county, significant turmoil.

Why couldn't Cunningham have done the same and made a quick break? Why couldn't he have made it easier on himself over these last seven weeks?

Because it was, essentially, his team, a team he had constructed and then reconstructed in the space of four years, reaching two All-Ireland finals in the process.

In a county that has not won an All-Ireland title for 27 years now, is that not an entitlement to stay, or at least fight to stay?

Holmes and Connelly could not have felt that weight of investment, having taken on the four-year project that James Horan had already seen up to roof level.

You see the frustration and anger manifest in Cunningham's fiery statement released yesterday evening to confirm that he was calling time on his futile struggle to stay in charge.

His faith in the team, evident by his very public declaration after this year's Leinster final, that they would be back in an All-Ireland final against Kilkenny seven weeks later, was strong. Unfortunately for him that faith hasn't been reciprocated now.

After a difficult start to the year, such an anaemic display against Waterford in the league quarter-final followed up by an indifferent effort the first day against Dublin they really hit a rich of vein of form.

Cunningham and the management clearly played a part in that and the conviction to enlist Conor Whelan for the All-Ireland quarter-final was a bold and successful move. But against that Seamus Callanan's destruction of the full-back line in the All-Ireland semi-final had to be countered by a much better defensive strategy and it wasn't there.

In the statement it's clear how far he feels he has taken the team and how much further he felt he could push them.

He was stepping aside "with the best interests of Galway hurling in mind and with the priority of best assisting Galway hurling to build on the achievement of 2015," he pointed out.

Conviction

Later on he speaks of his "deep conviction that the current Galway management team is the one best positioned to deliver Galway hurling to the next level and bring All-Ireland senior success to our county."

But his statement breathes fire at almost every other interval and his description of players being "misguided", his reference to outside influences and above all a core group of players driving the heave against them to preserve their own careers ranks as the most serious challenge to a group of players since the dark days of Cork's third player strike in 2009 when Gerald McCarthy, like Cunningham, went down swinging.

Surely that will elicit a response from the Galway players, silent until now. Like McCarthy, Cunningham bowed to the inevitable last night. because these heaves, once they are organised and maintain unity, always reach the same conclusion.

The most recent test cases in Limerick and Cork reflect that.

Cunningham may well have got the one-third majority he required if last night's Galway County Board vote went ahead. But to what end? At a players' meeting on Sunday night 26 out of 32 reiterated their lack of confidence in him. This followed earlier votes of no confidence in him dating back to May on the cusp of the championship, late September three weeks after the All-Ireland and again in Athenry at the height of this impasse.

A second vote established that if Cunningham did remain on 23 of the 32 wouldn't be playing for him in 2016. Strikingly, three players who had no confidence in Cunningham's management were still willing to play for him.

If there is an ironic upside to this it is that the majority of players stuck with the courage of their convictions and that will steel them for a future where pressure to succeed will undoubtedly increase from the Galway public.

Cunningham and those members of the Galway Board that were standing firmly by him may indeed have sensed that an experienced core were driving the purge against him and that in time the group would fragment much more than it did. But after seven weeks he needed much more of the 'middle ground' leaning back towards him. And that didn't happen.

Some of those young players given an opportunity by him over the last two years didn't feel any obligation to stand with him now. Others who he had kept faith with during periods of injury were also among those who wanted to show him the door.

Players are entitled to their stand. 'Player power' is a somewhat misleading term because it is essentially strongly-held player opinion that drives these situations.

But in the rarified atmosphere that these Galway players now occupy as All-Ireland finalists there really is only one more step they can take for vindication.

Irish Independent

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