Saturday 10 December 2016

Martin Breheny: Anthony Cunningham resignation a victory for denial over reality

Galway squad's mutiny may be good for egos but it ignores home truths

Published 18/11/2015 | 02:30

23 Galway players were prepared to go on strike if Anthony Cunningham stayed on
23 Galway players were prepared to go on strike if Anthony Cunningham stayed on
The Galway hurling squad may see this as a victory but, in reality, they have diminished themselves by playing the blame game in the manager’s territory only

When it comes to promoting a self-serving cause, Galway hurlers are good with figures.

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On Sunday night, they casually released numbers, showing how they had voted, not once but twice, on the issue that appears to have consumed them since the All-Ireland final: how to get rid of Anthony Cunningham as manager.

According to the figures, made public less than 24 hours before the Galway County Board were due to meet to consider the managerial controversy, 26 of 32 players had voted no confidence in Cunningham. On the question of whether the dissatisfaction would extend to refusing to play under him next year, nine of the rebels were not prepared to take it that far.

That still left 23 who would go on strike if Cunningham stayed on. Effectively, that brought the end of his term, for even if he received big county board backing, it would only have made a bad situation worse.

Galway would have been left like Limerick in 2010 when they had to field a largely second string for the entire season after the 2009 squad revolted against Justin McCarthy.

Cunningham's resignation on Monday evening was as predictable as it was inevitable. A man who has contributed so much to Galway hurling since first being selected on the minor team as a 16-year-old in 1981 - and who later won All-Ireland minor, U-21 (both as captain) and senior medals - wasn't going to continue in such impossible circumstances. The mutineers in the squad had won the carefully-orchestrated battle, but are they now prepared for the unavoidable war that lies ahead?

When the new manager is appointed, his first task will be to analyse the squad. Changes will follow - probably quite a few - so some of those who helped drive Cunningham out will never wear the maroon-and-white again.

No player thinks he's for the chop so, presumably, when it happens the departing ones will be less than pleased with the new boss. The difference this time is that they will have to accept it. After all, there can hardly be another heave.

Of course, the majority of this year's panel will be retained and that's where the fun really begins.

Just as the squad were happy to release figures, designed to depict Cunningham as an unwelcome figure in the dressing room, the new manager will have some interesting counts to put before the players.

All he needs to do is play a DVD of the second half of this year's All-Ireland final. It won't make happy viewing for most of the players.

They left the dressing room with a three-point lead, having outscored Kilkenny by 0-9 to 0-4 in the final 20 minutes of the first half, and seemingly well-placed to drive on. Now, it was down to them. Their big chance had come. The game would be decided on the pitch - not by Cunningham or Brian Cody.

So what happened? Galway had one shot at goal, which dropped short, in the first seven minutes of the second half. They didn't score until the 10th minute and managed just two more points over the next 20 minutes. Meanwhile, Kilkenny piled on the points, outscoring Galway by 0-11 to 0-3 in the first 30 minutes of the second half.

Blame

By the 35th minute, it was 0-14 to 0-4 to Kilkenny before Joe Canning's stoppage-time goal from a free. When the Galway players look back on those 35 minutes, what do they see? Surely, they can't dump the blame for the performance drop-off on Cunningham.

No, that was down to them. Granted, they were up against opposition which is expert at winning big games but the truth on this occasion was that Kilkenny didn't have to do anything particularly special to grab - and retain - control.

They merely raised their efficiency levels and were delighted to see Galway lower theirs. That can happen in any game but, given what's gone on since the final, it appears the players take no responsibility for what may be the best chance to win the title they will get for quite some time.

Instead, they targeted Cunningham and have now got their way. Ever since the first ripples of discontent emerged after the All-Ireland final, it was always going to end in Cunningham's departure, because the strike option could never be trumped.

That raises the question as to why the players didn't vote straight away on whether they would play under Cunningham next year, rather than allowing it drag on until now. The squad may see this as a victory but, in reality, they have diminished themselves by playing the blame game in the manager's territory only.

Coming on top of the second-half collapse against Kilkenny, it will leave them weaker than they might think heading into 2016. They might have successfully indulged their egos but that doesn't win All-Irelands.

Irish Independent

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