Monday 20 November 2017

Cunningham's Dubs tangled up in gloom as exit door looms

It will Cunningham has stepped down as Dublin hurling manager
It will Cunningham has stepped down as Dublin hurling manager

"Tomorrow is a new day," said Ger Cunningham in the aftermath of the second-half spree against Laois at Parnell Park that ensured the Dublin hurlers' - and their manager's - summer story would endure for another week, at least.

Today in Semple offers little guarantee of tomorrow for either.

A few weeks back after the submissive shellacking by the admittedly justified All-Ireland favourites, County Board chairman Sean Shanley offered that this Dublin hurling team is one for the future, not just for today.

Which would be fine were it not for the fact that the past weighs down so heavily upon the present, it is difficult for anyone to see any future in the way things are.

"Tipperary are strong favourites even if it was in Parnell Park," says former Dublin boss Humphrey Kelleher, after the mini-furore about the qualifier venue blew itself out the minute the match was struck.

"It is hard to see them dominating any area against Tipperary because we don't have the players there at present…"

Step forward the marching band of elephants who, at this stage, have long left the room.

The irony that Cunningham's competitive reign may be bookended by wildly different results and performances against Tipperary will not be lost on what has been a steadily growing number of critics.

Salad days. Conal Keaney relocating from wing-forward to wing-back. Shane Durkin hoovering as sweeper. Mikey Carton renewing at the edge of the square and dominating no less a threat than Seamie Callanan.

All gone; and more with them, the only hurling those of insults, words like "shambles" being flung from the ditches by the departed while the rest of the disappeared prolong the gag that the best Dublin hurling team are with Jim Gavin.

The list of absentees is endless and hangs like a millstone around Cunningham's neck; for all that he has introduced new talent - from Ben Quinn to Donal Burke and Eoghan O'Donnell and Rian McBride - starved of the oxygen of results, the transition has been doomed to failure.

Shanley also noted 2017 as a small set-back.

More pointedly, he added that the removal of so many players, "whether it was right or wrong remains to be seen, but it hasn't worked out well for Ger ... maybe the ones who walked away had something."

He was always going to be shorn a raft of key big ball devotees, ensuring any transition was going to present enormous difficulties.

Allowing so many others to leave weakened his cause; even if some, like Paul Ryan, had to publicly proclaim that they had left rather than be pushed, the end result was still the same.

"He looked at it like a melting pot rather than individuals in the pot," notes Kelleher, who points out that skills deficiencies and coaching remain deeper concerns.


Tommy Dunne, a key coach under Anthony Daly, left after the first year before Cunningham lost another three of his back-room team; the departure of so many key characters during this tenure has been in direct disproportion to the results.

And it will be results that define Cunningham; Daly managed to survive three dismal seasons but only because he served for six and in every other year was successful.

Of matches that matter, they have only won four but lost 16; two of those wins were against Laois; relegation this spring confirmed the drift.

Cunningham pointed the finger publicly at his players after an opening day hammering - ominously at the hands of Tipp - and they responded, briefly, by winning in Cork but it merely interrupted, rather than reversed, the decline.

While Cunningham's coaching nous is widely regarded, his deficiencies in man-management has hindered him.

The results - literally - and presumably confirmed today, haven't added up.

All his yesterdays lead to today but it seems like there will be no tomorrow for Cunningham and Dublin.

Derek McGrath or Mattie Kenny may be next man in but getting the best men on the field will remain a problem.

Irish Independent

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