The mild-mannered St Finbarr’s man will meet the players for the first time this weekend.
Talk about winning All-Irelands can and will wait. “My view is that I’ll be targeting working with the players, getting to know the players over the next few months, seeing where as a coaching team we can try to improve them and looking at trying to improve performance on the pitch. That’s the whole focus, nothing else other than that.”
He will be assisted by former Tipperary coach and captain Tommy Dunne, who was part of Anthony Daly’s set-up this past season, and his selectors are Shay Boland and Gearóid Ó Riain. Former U21 and minor manager Boland had been in the running for the managerial spot while Ó Riain is well respected from his work with club Kilmacud Crokes.
DCU chief executive of sports Ken Robinson, who helped guide Ballymun Kickhams to an All-Ireland SFC final last year, will train the panel, while renowned sports psychologist Caroline Currid has been appointed performance coach. Unlike previous years where they had to train around the county, the squad will be settled in DCU’s St Clare’s pitches from where the senior footballers also operate.
It’s a strong team that Cunningham has put together, most noticeably Boland who had been touted for the role. “Obviously, I’m going to need guys here in Dublin who know the scene because they would probably know it a lot better than I would so I think Shay fits that bill perfectly.”
The fact both of Dublin’s Leinster quarter-finals take place in Croke Park on May 31 means there is little or no chance of dual players, but Cunningham hopes to at least sell his vision of Dublin hurling to those footballers with a talent the small ball game. “You’d love a situation where you could get those guys to play hurling if they could.”
Without them, he still feels Dublin are All-Ireland contenders although he’s aware under Daly they followed great seasons with poor ones.
“But when it was year up, it was really, really good. If at the start of last year (2014) you were picking your top four teams they would have expected Dublin to have been in there after their performances in 2013.
“Some of the best players in the country play for Dublin so the nucleus of the talent is there. That’s the challenge we see as the backroom team to try and raise the level all round and try to get back up to 2013 level and beyond.”
Cunningham recognises the scope he has been given with a three-year term. “Well, I think there’s a degree of certainty and security there. You need to start looking at the future and bringing on some of the younger guys right through onto the team and it’s going to take a while to get to know them.”
It’s been mentioned regularly since their quarter-final defeat to Tipperary this year that Dublin is in urgent need of fresh blood. Cunningham batted that question away with no shortage of diplomacy. “Every team needs freshening. At every stage you always look to try and improve things. The nature of the business is that at minor and U21 level you always have fellas coming through and you have guys on the panel trying to stay there. You want to try and strike a happy balance.”