Wednesday 16 October 2019

Galway boss Anthony Cunningham: Managing to keep it moving

Galway boss Anthony Cunningham faces a daunting workload, writes Damian Lawlor

Damian Lawlor

THEY say if you want a job done well, you should ask a busy man and maybe that's why Anthony Cunningham finds himself in charge of four teams until next March.

Double-jobbing and dual mandates are hardly new to the GAA, but from next week Cunningham will move to a beat that would challenge even the top professional sportspeople in the country.

First up are the Galway senior hurlers in the Walsh Cup, a risk-free tournament that will offer the new manager his sole chance to blood 18 young players for the top flight. After that, it's on to the NHL and a group of death that sees the Tribesmen pitted against the five best teams in the country.

Galway hurling managers can usually operate in a climate of indifference until July or August, but with such an arduous spring campaign looming, and having dropped a third of last year's team including big names like Damien Joyce, Shane Kavanagh, Ger Farragher, Donal Barry, Adrian Cullinane and John Lee from his squad, it won't be like that for Cunningham. He will be put under the microscope from the word go.

Speaking recently, Cunningham highlighted the importance of a good start to the league. "The first match is like a mini-championship match to us," he admitted. "It's Dublin, the champions, and if you win your first match it sets you up for maybe a semi-final shot. If you lose the first match you're going to be fighting relegation."

With so many of his new-look panel around the 19-20 mark, he has remained in charge of the under 21 side for 2012. And after winning the All-Ireland this year he must now devise a template for next year's assault.

That might seem simplistic enough, given that Galway don't have provincial action, but as champions they'll be on everyone's radar. And Cunningham will have to ensure his top players are not burnt out from senior action, whilst also making certain that other fringe members don't suffer a lack of game time. That could be a logistical nightmare, particularly with the structure of the Galway club championship. To the surprise of many, and just to add to his workload, the interprovincial series has been resurrected not long after the GAA buried it. Once more, Cunningham will be asked to multi-task by taking charge of the Connacht hurling team that plays a semi-final in mid-February.

He'll have to lean heavily on his selectors, Tom Helebert and Mattie Kenny, in this period because Garrycastle, the club he has led to three Westmeath football titles in a row and a Leinster crown last week, will also be in the midst of preparations for their All-Ireland semi-final against St Brigid's.

That will be another examination of him as a manager -- attempting to build a new foundation for Galway hurling while looking to put a coat of gloss on Garrycastle's season. Different weights programmes, tactics, drills, game plans that are poles apart; it won't be easy even for a manager who consistently seems to deliver.

Yet, when quizzed about these demands, Cunningham issued a sharp riposte. "That's not a problem; it's never a problem if you are winning." What then of the scrutiny he'll face if early league results don't go his way -- considering he has jettisoned six high-profile hurlers? "There's an open-door policy with Galway," he replied, intimating that some of those players could be recalled.

Cunningham is an astute character and a football and hurling manager of equal stature. Remember, his successful stewardship of Garrycastle comes only five years after delivering a Connacht title for St Brigid's. It appears he has absolutely no problem mixing codes and it seems like the journey he's about to set on is no burden.

"The Galway job is very important to me, but it doesn't come into things in relation to Garrycastle," he explains when asked about his focus on the Westmeath club.

"Every game is different with Garrycastle, and every game requires the same level of concentration and focus, so there's no question of emotion or anything coming into it. There's very little room for sentiment in sport, and particularly when high-intensity finals are at stake. All I'm working towards is giving my best for Garrycastle and hopefully it can go to St Patrick's Day."

Had Oulart-The Ballagh succeeded in their Leinster club final quest, Liam Dunne would also have found himself on both club and county duty, having just taken over Wexford.

He did his best to separate the two jobs, but speaking recently at a function, his assertion that certain Wexford players' long-serving careers would come under scrutiny dominated the following day's headlines. A crossover is inevitable.

Managing more than one high-profile team at the same time is not a scenario that would interest many. Earlier this year, Colm Coyle spoke of the stress levels of managing just one. Recalling a trip to the dentist while in charge of Meath, he revealed how he had contracted a parafunctional jaw condition which meant that his fillings were falling out because stress was causing him to grind his teeth in his sleep.

Last October, Liam Sheedy stepped down as Tipperary manager despite the expectation that he would continue to nurture the county's burgeoning production lines. But Sheedy simply couldn't sustain the massive commitment.

"It does take an awful lot out of you," he said. "We were all very busy in our day jobs and the 16-hour days as a GAA manager just weren't sustainable. It's literally a full-time job because what you're trying to instill is a full-time approach in an amateur game. That takes its toll over time."

Still, the dual command continues to exist. Micheal McDermott, the Clare football manager, also looks after the Monaleen footballers. Pat O'Shea was appointed Kerry manager in 2006 whilst also in charge of the Dr Crokes team that reached the 2007 All-Ireland club final, losing a replay to Crossmaglen.

In his last term as Cork manager, Billy Morgan was heavily involved with Nemo Rangers, looking after their intermediate side, while Pat Joe Whelahan managed the Offaly seniors and under 21s in 1989 and also worked with the minors. All three won Leinster titles while the minors won the All-Ireland. Later in his career, Whelahan also led Birr and Toomevara to county titles in the same season.

Dinny Cahill looked after the Antrim and St Rynagh's hurlers this season, proving, like the others, that the extra exertions can be managed.

In the main, however, it's widely acknowledged that an inter-county boss will invest 40 hours per week into preparing a team. With four to monitor for a few months, Cunningham will have to use his commute from Athlone to Salthill wisely, delegating and making arrangements en route. He will spend as much time working away from his teams as with them. There is video analysis, tactics and meetings with selectors and medical staff. In 2012, free time will be a luxury.

Then there are the players. They are quick to question drills and systems these days and yet they could look for their manager to act as a guidance counsellor just a day or two after questioning him.

The job is often a thankless one, although Cunningham probably wouldn't agree -- not after landing an All-Ireland under 21 hurling title and Westmeath and Leinster football championships in the past few months.

His decorated CV suggests he can cope and his managerial career has so far been an ode to achievement.

Sometimes success comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.

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