Saturday 21 September 2019

Lesson from Tribal warfare is that players must be listened to

Anthony Cunningham: ‘Unwinnable contest’
Anthony Cunningham: ‘Unwinnable contest’

Dermot Crowe

Finally, as required, even if through an apparent leak, the Galway players have spoken and put some meat on the bones of a story to which they have resolutely adhered since it first emerged in the wake of their All-Ireland final defeat to Kilkenny.

The need had less to do with satisfying a public hunger for detail and gossip than influencing public opinion which seemed heavily disposed towards Anthony Cunningham's increasingly alienated position and his claims that he was baffled by their actions, blaming it on the work of a small inner circle.

He left without being able to resist the temptation of landing a few blows on those, he perceived, were plotting unjustly against him and if this is a sincerely-held belief then his words may be a reminder that he is human and feels his reputation has been pilloried and needs protecting.

But the sensible thing in these situations - as happened in Mayo - is to bite your tongue. There is nothing to be gained otherwise.

Once he had cut loose on the players and depicted them in such unfavourable terms, the likelihood of some counter-response grew. The players have responded comprehensively to all the major issues raised, defending their position, declaring again that this has its origins long before the All-Ireland final defeat.

Some of the detail contained in the leaked letter, including an apparent breakdown in basic understanding between the members of the backroom team, and poor man-management, provides some of the detail Cunningham claimed was lacking.

But the bones of the dispute were undeniable, a sweeping majority of those polled signalling that they did not see Cunningham as the right choice to take them forward into 2016. It is never black and white, and any relationship will have its good and bad spells, but this one seemed, to the players at least, beyond repair. The differences were deemed irreconcilable.

Once a manager loses player support the contest in unwinnable. In his time as manager, Cunningham has shed selectors he presumably felt weren't up to the job. They might argue differently, but to what avail?

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Two things made this a greater mess than it needed to be. Firstly, Cunningham did not accept the players' position, and evidently still doesn't. Secondly, the county board, rather than showing leadership, went to a mediator and passed the buck. This dragged the process on two months longer than necessary. It has made the task of healing the wounds infinitely greater. The lesson in future is that players' grievances need to be treated seriously. In this case they clearly were not.

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