Ger Cunningham's road to a new era for Dublin hurling

Ger Cunningham

WANT to know the most foolproof GAA prediction for 2015? Ger Cunningham won't enter the Dublin hurlers' dressing-room in Croke Park this Saturday evening, resplendent in swimming shorts, goggles and hat while asking, in his best Limerick imitation accent, "Whaare's the pooool?"

This, er, most unusual of pre-match routines was once tried by Cunningham's predecessor in the Sky Blue hotseat. As revealed in his autobiography last autumn, Anthony Daly took this idiosyncratic route in an (evidently successful) attempt to "lighten the mood" ahead of the 2011 Allianz League final against Kilkenny.

That was 'Dalo': a human fireball of passion, total commitment - and pure craic.


Cunningham is a different animal but, like a certain charismatic Clareman, he's also a winner. When Daly departed after six roller coaster years of history-making highs interspersed with gut-wrenching lows, he left Dublin hurling in a far healthier place.

But he also left behind a panel that had flatlined for those two season-defining matches against Kilkenny and Tipperary - a panel that probably needed a new voice to recharge and refocus.

"I haven't gone that road before!" laughed Cunningham, when the story of Dalo and the swimming garb was broached. "It just goes to show what level he went to, to try and create that atmosphere within the dressing-room."

The Corkman was speaking at this week's unveiling of Ballygowan and Energise Sport as the official hydration partners of Dublin GAA. He readily accepts that his predecessor had a special bond with the Dublin hurlers; that he has a different style and it has taken the players a while to adjust to his way of doing things.

"He had such a relationship with them, I think that's plain to see in the book," Cunningham reflected.

"And I think, if you talk to any of the players, the relationship that they had with Dalo was fantastic.

"When you're there for four or five or six years, as he's been, and brought Dublin from where it was into winning national leagues and winning Leinster titles and competing for All-Ireland titles, there's bound to be a situation where … there was a very strong bond there.

"But I think from talking to the lads and from talking to Dalo himself - I met him - it came to a natural end really, from their point of view."

He bumped into Daly after his appointment, at the Irish Book Awards: "We had a good chat that night, and we exchanged numbers and the whole lot ... he'll be more than helpful."

Thus far, Cunningham has hit the results ground running with three emphatic victories over DIT, Antrim and Laois paving a route to Saturday's Walsh Cup decider against Galway in Croke Park (throw-in 5.0).

But it hasn't been an entirely smooth transition either: last weekend it was confirmed that Tommy Dunne was quitting his coaching role with the Dubs because of study commitments, following his acceptance onto a Masters in Sports Performance course at University of Limerick.

The new boss has reiterated his determination to appoint a new head coach; for the moment, fellow selectors Gearóid Ó Riain and Shay Boland along with Cunningham (no stranger to the role) will share coaching duties.

Whereas the head coach role is very much hands-on, the manager's brief is to "step back and see the bigger picture." So then, what's his initial assessment of Dublin hurling? And has it the talent to match any team in the country?

"Yeah, absolutely," he declared. "The guys that have come into the panel ... there's some really good, talented hurlers there.

"They've settled in well and hopefully, in the course of the league, we'll get a chance to introduce them and give them a chance to put their hand up for inclusion on the team."

The Cork hurling public has never laboured under an inferiority complex, but his initial impressions of Dublin's mentality have been positive.

"The mindset is very strong," he professed. "These guys have been at that level - Leinster finals, All-Ireland semi-finals, and they've won leagues. So the mindset is strong; I don't see any difference really in the mindset.

"But again, it's early days. Over the next couple of weeks we're going from Walsh Cup into important National League matches, so maybe we'd be better off to judge after that," added the Cork legend.

Day one - Tipp at home on Sunday week. Day two - Kilkenny away. The fun is only starting.