Monday 18 November 2019

Brendan Cummins: Winning an All-Ireland should never be a burden

Galway can retain their crown next year by remembering what won it in the first place

The Galway players enjoy their moment in Croke Park after winning the Liam MacCarthy Cup. Photo: Sportsfile
The Galway players enjoy their moment in Croke Park after winning the Liam MacCarthy Cup. Photo: Sportsfile

Brendan Cummins

Anybody working in sales-based roles will understand the feeling of hitting your targets - only to be told the very next day about what's expected of you in the following year.

Kilkenny and Tipperary hurlers will understand it too.

Before the soup is cold at the victory banquet after an All-Ireland final win, they're questioned about whether they can repeat the trick 12 months later.

It's different in Galway now. Bridging a 29-year gap marks a time for celebration. It's not a burden - and never should be.

They can enjoy now until Christmas, which they're entitled to do after completing the clean sweep of league, Leinster and All-Ireland crowns.

It's only when they arrive home from their team holiday in the New Year, and when those plane wheels slam down on the Shannon tarmac, that the pressure will crank up again.

Kilkenny aside, this is a crown that has weighed heavy on the shoulders of many previous winners.

For spells this year, the Tipp team that hurled with freedom in 2016 suddenly looked like they were going to work in 2017, desperately chasing those sales targets.

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That's what the pressure can do to you but Galway find themselves in a brilliant position.

Micheál Donoghue's charges will play as All-Ireland champions in Division 1B, far from the madding crowd.

They'll have room to breathe, and leeway for experimentation, as they look to find the three players to freshen things up.

They'll win games comfortably and get the heavy training sorted out, while their big summer rivals will slog it out in Division 1A, desperate for points to stave off the threat of relegation.

Kilkenny and Tipp will be under the microscope from the word go.

The early-season narrative is predictable. Where are Kilkenny? What will Tipp do to regain their lost title? Have we seen a power shift in hurling? What's Brian Cody going to do next? Is Michael Ryan going to rejuvenate this Tipp team?

There won't be a huge amount of focus on Galway - and they can use that to their advantage.

Galway's players and supporters are entitled to feel now that they might be around for a while but history will have taught them not to take anything for granted.

Some of their players have seen hard times, and failed in Croke Park.

That's no sin but failure saw them labelled in some quarters with the unfortunate 'chokers' tag. That's now been banished, thanks to their unity and spirit.

For years in Galway, and from the outside looking in, club rivalries seemed to be an issue.

But those hatchets have been buried and the whole country saw the fruits of that in Sunday's performance.

And they could enjoy the Citywest banquet. They could travel home to Galway last night with joy in their souls and free minds.

I remember winning in 2010 and being told 'oh, ye have to win it next year now.'

You can be sure there was none of that for the Galway lads. You won't have heard any of them talking about being here for the next five years.

Supporters hugged their players and players hugged each other with nothing in their minds only to enjoy this moment and that next year will look after itself.

That's a big contrast to my experience and when someone mentioned those words - back-to-back - it's almost like you couldn't enjoy yourself anymore because a seed was planted.

It's in the back of your head that you're an underachiever if you don't do it again.

The modern era of Kilkenny has set practically unachievable targets for anybody trying to emulate them.

Before they came along, an All-Ireland medal entitled you to a swagger, a feeling of invincibility, that you were on top of the pile.

But for the modern hurler, there's no such thing as being on top of the pile, because there's always someone else with more medals than you.

If you allow it, that takes away some of your swagger and dents your confidence and belief in yourself and the team.

That should never be the case but I believe Galway will bring a real freshness to their title defence next year.

This group is no longer weighed down by history. They're over the hump, they've done it, and I would hope that Galway would play with that swagger of champions.

Sure, there will be a challenge to be better than everybody else again but Kilkenny have had their good run, Tipp have carried baggage, and maybe Galway are the ones who can actually remember that being champions is not a burden, and that it should give you the freedom to play.

If I was a Galway hurler now, I'd lock in that good feeling and call upon it when the going gets tough next summer.

Remember what right now feels like, and dip into it when you need to.

It seemed to me this year that the life was sucked out of Tipp by sheer expectation - and they forgot to play with the freedom that had liberated them in the first place.

When Tipp were successful 12 months ago, the language used was 'don't' and 'you must'.

Don't make the mistakes of last year, or of 2010. Don't do this, don't do that. It just about stopped short of 'don't bloody enjoy yourself'.

Or, you must win it again, you must keep the head down and you must keep working hard.

For Waterford, meanwhile, the big question is whether or not Derek McGrath will remain on as manager.

That's the key to success or otherwise in 2018. Now, he has good men around him in Fergal Hartley, Eoin Murphy and Dan Shanahan.

And there has to be a feeling of unfinished business in this group.

They have no silverware to show for a monumental effort this year but maybe they've gained something more important - and that's the experience of playing in an All-Ireland final.


That's not something that can be discounted - but it will go to waste if the management team don't stay on.

I'll never forget the Wednesday night in October 2010 when the text message came through on my phone from Liam Sheedy, telling us that he was stepping down.

That message is of equal significance in my hurling career as walking up the steps of the Hogan Stand a month before.

That's the power of a good manager. He's the conscience of a player, the rock they'll look to in times of doubt or trouble.

McGrath shipped criticism from all angles but he came out swinging. That's not the mark of a good manager - it's the mark of a great one.

He was no longer the lonely figure I watched patrolling the touchline in June when his team were dumped out of the Munster championship against Cork.

One of the highlights of my summer was watching him blossom into a confident manager again, barking out instructions with that never-say-die look in his eyes.

But Galway were worthy winners - and it takes something special to banish 29 years of hurt, along with doubts that they might crumble again in the face of adversity.

What struck me all year, and I mentioned it more than once, was their composure and belief that this was their time.

Like champions that have gone before, they made sure in the last ten minutes that it would be so.

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