Saturday 24 August 2019

Vincent Hogan: Silence of Galway players accuses them of an old sin

Anthony Cunningham resigned this week following player unrest
Anthony Cunningham resigned this week following player unrest
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

So who exactly shot Anthony Cunningham?

Just a few, opportunistic old hombres hell-bent on self-preservation or virtually every occupant of the beaten Croke Park dressing-room on September 6? Cunningham clearly blames the former. The tone of his resignation statement this week suggested that he'd fallen victim to a small coterie of snipers just waiting in the long grass.

But the arithmetic contradicts Anthony.

And, given that that arithmetic (26 out of 32 players expressing no confidence in his management) was the product of a secret ballot, is it not fair to ask how an All-Ireland final team could be moved to mutiny within days of playing the biggest game of the year?

Because that was how quickly Galway hurlers decided that they wanted a new manager.

It wasn't a show of hands that damned Cunningham in the end, so the scope simply wasn't there to bully a consensus.

For whatever reason, the manager lost the vast majority of his dressing-room. The county board appointing an intermediary in response to this was a bit like proposing a chimney sweep for a house already burning down.

Still, the bare optics of the story shine a pretty unflattering light on Galway's players.

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They posed for photographs at Shannon Airport yesterday en route to Boston, meeting a squinting world with the impassive, everyday smiles of men confident of their destiny. Not bad for a group with a history of losing their way.

But their silence accuses them. It may just be the worst PR strategy undertaken since some marketing 'wise guy' introduced a new pair of Nike trainers on St Patrick's Day called Black and Tans.


Because in choosing not to explain themselves, the Galway players stand accused of burying a good man, of betraying someone who got them to two of the last four All-Ireland finals.

Was the loss to Kilkenny really down to Cunningham? Should he and his team of selectors have done more to empower them? If so, how?

The message coming from within the camp is that, if anything, the county board is the real problem here. That as far back as April, the players' first vote of no confidence in their manager wasn't simply rejected by the board, but disregarded.

This is an old-world approach to GAA conflict, taking the view that players should be seen, yet never heard. All through this story, the county board's attitude to their hurlers seemed, at best, ambivalent, at worst, hostile.

And that came to a head with the seemingly hurried ratification of Cunningham as manager for another year just 48 hours after the emphatic delivery of a new vote of no confidence from the Galway dressing-room. Indeed just 24 hours after that vote had been articulated directly to Cunningham by a representative group of players.

Why did the board do that given the position of their senior hurling management team had not even been on the original agenda for that meeting? Why rush a vote before Cunningham had even delivered his end-of-season review?

The impression given is of a board unequivocally protective of the manager despite recrimination thickening around the issue like a fog. One, essentially, in denial.

Galway's players have, we are told, a labyrinth of unexpressed reasons for wanting a new manager. Yet, they think it best not to articulate them. Their rumoured version of events is that the successes of 2012 (the county's first Leinster crown and pushing Kilkenny to an All-Ireland final replay) were largely player-driven after a wretched league campaign brought tensions to a head.

Yet there is acknowledgement too that that year's management team of Cunningham, Mattie Kenny and Tom Helebert worked, largely, well together. In 2013, however, coherence reputedly gave way to contradiction and that triumvirate was duly dis-assembled.


The players regard 2013 and 2014 as lost years and, until the All-Ireland quarter-final mauling of Cork in July, they had little real sense that this year would be any different.

But that victory and the thrilling semi-final defeat of Tipperary suddenly propelled them into September with not a hint of discord in the wind.

Better still, half an hour into the final against Kilkenny 11 weeks ago they had scored a dozen times to their opponents' six. This looked a Galway team close to rampant.

Is it really plausible then that management was to blame for what followed?

That is an issue now for Galway's hurlers. For they have history here, the county failing to win any of its last six All-Ireland final appearances. On too many big days, too many players have not performed. Yet, always, the manager became the fall guy.

So when they return home from tomorrow's Fenway Hurling Classic, Galway will do so to a hurling public growing hostile of that trend.

Rumour has it, that the players want a more "modern" manager. That their mutiny was motivated by the most selfless of intentions.

That the senior men named publicly in the communication of dressing-room discord are fully cognisant now of the possibility that the next manager might not want them.

No matter, imagine the vibe if Galway go poorly under the new man next year? Imagine the energy coming towards them from their people? The anger? They will be seen simply as a group with conceit in their stomachs and rocks in their heads. A mob who got their man.

They'd better be ready with their excuses.

Irish Independent

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