Tuesday 20 March 2018

Anthony Cunningham stands firm as Board seeks a solution to Galway crisis

Anthony Cunningham
Anthony Cunningham
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Galway hurling manager Anthony Cunningham was locked in talks with officials from Galway's County and Hurling Board last night over a future that had become increasingly uncertain over the weekend.

Cunningham was ratified for a further year at a County Board meeting last Monday night. But that was just a day after a number of players had sat down for face-to-face talks with him and conveyed an expression of no-confidence from the dressing-room in his management.

Many of the Galway players had convened the day before to discuss management and coaching issues and it was agreed to inform Cunningham of the mood of that meeting.

One account suggests that as many as 24 players were opposed to their manager of four years continuing, but that can't be verified. Whether the players informed the Board of their views ahead of last Monday's meeting is unclear.

A delegation of players met with County and Hurling Board officials on Saturday night to listen to grievances and that prompted last night's meeting with Cunningham.

The issues are believed to be related more to coaching and tactical issues rather than logistics or spending on the team, which may have been additional factors for the impasse across the border in Mayo last week.

The Galway squad had previously convened at the end of April, in the wake of their dismal exit to Waterford in the League, to gauge a mood about the management. The conclusion drawn then was that they weren't equipped to lead them to an All-Ireland title. But it was felt by a majority that it was too close to the commencement of the Championship to 'make a move.'

Ironically Galway came so close to doing just that (winning an All-Ireland) last month when they led Kilkenny by three points at half-time in the All-Ireland final, having taken out Cork and Tipperary in their previous games.

Cunningham is the first manager to guide Galway to two All-Ireland finals since Cyril Farrell. He has radically changed the team and squad throughout his four years in charge and had the conviction to promote last year's minor star Conor Whelan to the team this summer having nurtured the talents of Jason Flynn and Cathal Mannion. He has sought to inject greater physical and mental toughness into Galway and for much of the Championship that approach had the desired effect.

If there was a tactical criticism of management it manifested from their semi-final win over Tipperary when Padraig Mannion was left on Seamus Callanan without any remedial action until after the Premier full-forward had scored a third goal. The Board were expected to revert to the players again today.

Former Galway captain and manager Conor Hayes feels that if the unity of the players is strong enough there is no point in his old colleague Cunningham continuing.

He has also criticised the handling of the issue, stating that if the Board were aware of the players' feelings after last weekend they shouldn't have pressed ahead with ratifying him and should have bought time instead.

"That's the key to it. If this was known by the Board - players and management obviously knew it - it should have been thrashed out and his ratification shouldn't have come up until next week," said Hayes.

"They should have given themselves a week. Say to the players, 'our intention is to ratify Anthony, ye seem to have difficulties, what are they? What can we do to sort this out?'

"If they can't then they can't go ahead with (ratification) and they're going to have to sit down with Anthony, say 'this doesn't look like it's going to work.'

"If the players are strong enough on it, it's a difficult one for him. If you plough on with that hanging over you, bar you win ever game between now and next September, it's going to be just a case of hanging there."


Hayes admitted it would be difficult for Cunningham, if he was to stay on, to press ahead with a personnel overhaul because some of those behind this move could be on the exit list.

The back-to-back All-Ireland-winning captain said the players are not "coming from a very strong base" because they don't have All-Ireland medals but admitted "they still have to be listened to. You can't fall out with them."

Hayes continued: "Players generally are beginning to have much more of a say. If it's (the sentiment for change) as strong as it seems then I don't think there is any way back for anybody.

"I'd do what the Mayo lads (Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes) did and walk away. If you plough on (and) there is a strong element against you there then there is no future in it.

"If it is (strong) he doesn't have much choice. You can't take on the players in that situation. If it's not, maybe there is a way back.

"It's not good, especially after an All-Ireland final. It wasn't dealt with well, whether it's strong or weak by the players, strong or weak from Anthony Cunningham. If this was known then it should have been thrashed out. As it is, now we're talking about issues that no one really knows anything about."

Cunningham has been assisted by former Galway hurler Eugene Cloonan and Damien Curley for the last two years while Pat Malone joined the team in 2015.

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