Busy Cunningham a dual star of a different sort

PREPARING Garrycastle for a second Leinster club football final in three years in what could be his last game in charge would be enough to keep most managers occupied. But Anthony Cunningham’s been getting accustomed to multi-tasking since he his appointment as John McIntyre’s successor over the Galway hurlers in late October.

Culling one-third of last season’s panel shows the St Thomas man is tending to his own county, just as much as the Westmeath outfit.

And he appreciates as much as he’s called for patience, there will be no honeymoon period in Galway. Even though they have reached the All-Ireland semi-finals just once in the last nine years (2005), relegation from the six-team Division 1A would go down like a lead balloon in Galway.

“This year’s league is going to be highly competitive,” acknowledged the two-time All-Ireland winner.

“The first league match is like a mini-championship match to us, against Dublin. They’re champions, they’re the ones everyone wants to beat now and if you win your first match it sets you up for maybe a semi-final shot.

“If you lose your first match you’re going to be fighting (relegation). We have two home games, three away and every county is going about it the same.”

Cunningham will use the Walsh Cup as well as the inter-provincial competition to run the rule over his players before that league opener in Pearse Stadium on February 26.

But in dropping the likes of last year’s captain Damien Joyce, 2010 All-Star nominee Ger Farragher, Shane Kavanagh and John Lee, Cunningham will be shorn of experience come the start of the competition.

However, he has signalled all is not lost for the 10 or so culled from the panel.

“To be fair, a lot of players there who aren’t part of the panel now gave great service and we’ll still look at them.

“It’s very much an open door policy. We also want to try quite a few new players and there’s a huge development phase going to hit Galway because we have a lot of young players coming through. That’s what we’ll be using the league for. You know, there are a lot of experienced players who may not be part of the first stage of the league but who we could be looking at again.”

Given the amount of underage Galway hurling has enjoyed, Cunningham knows people in the county will still demand results but pleads for time to mature them at the highest level.

“I think probably over the years, expectations were probably a bit higher than reality,” he noted.

“I think in our press release and in our discussions with the hurling public (we’ve said) that it’s going to take time to get to the levels where we want to be, behind the Tipperarys and Kilkennys. We would be behind the Waterfords and the Dublins.

“There’s no hiding from that fact so it is going to take time. Even for U21s, 21, 22, 23-year-olds coming through, you’ve seen it yourselves with the footballers, maybe in Dublin, coming through, it’s taken a number of years to kick in. We have to be patient.”

Having severed his right Achilles heel and recently undergoing an operation on it, double-jobbing would appear to be more of an onerous task for Cunningham.

But he appears to be revelling it and has no qualms about having to divide his time between the two teams, should Garrycastle prosper in Tullamore on Sunday and qualify for a February All-Ireland semi-final.

“Galway kicks off in earnest on January but we have a big backroom team, two very good managers, or coaches, in Tom and Mattie Kenny and same in Garrycastle. It’s never a problem when you’re winning.”

Likewise, Cunningham finds no problem in switching from one code to another. The likes of Pat O’Shea and Micheal McDermott have all had to juggle club and county commitments at the highest level in the same months but nobody has encountered anything like Cunningham’s situation.

“Well presently this is the biggest goal that we have,” he said of Garrycastle’s showdown with Dublin’s St Brigids. “This has been full focus for me since we won the county championship there in October. We’ve had good success in Leinster without winning the final. This is our second final in three years. We were beaten last year narrowly as well by Kilmacud so we’ve been used to the Leinster campaign.”

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