The Cats laid down an early marker 12 months ago by beating Dublin at Croke Park in the pre-season decider, a result replicated by Galway on Saturday night.
It would be a bold prediction that Galway will claim Allianz League, Leinster and ultimately All-Ireland honours like Kilkenny went on to do last year. In fact, Galway may not have even claimed a second Walsh Cup title had Kilkenny not pulled out of the tournament.
But Cunningham is ambitious all the same, and aims to use Saturday’s win, courtesy of James Regan’s decisive 68th minute goal, to tee up a successful season. The Tribesmen begin their Division 1A campaign next Sunday at home to Clare before a trip to Cork six days later.
“We said at the start of the year that for us to go and win the league, we wanted to go and win the Walsh Cup,” said Cunningham. “And to win the championship, we’d want to go and win the league.
“That’s how we’re looking at it, it’s more of a stepping stone. It was also a game at Croke Park, against a very good Dublin team.”
The first leg of a potential quadruple of successes in 2015 looked far from secure for Galway early on. They slipped to a 1-8 to 0-4 deficit after 20 minutes and hinted they may struggle in the absence of key players like Joe Canning and Conor Cooney.
But they reduced arrears to just three by half-time, 1-12 to 0-12, and aside from Flynn’s goal and his 1-4 in total, found inspiration in Jason Flynn, who shot 0-11 from frees.
“We were disappointed because we leaked a goal and a couple of points in the first half when it was fairly level pegging with Dublin,” continued Cunningham. “But we stuck in there and got the breaks.
“That’s what we expect from the likes of James Regan because he’s a very talented hurler and we expect to see more from these players.
“Jason’s a fantastic player. He’s playing Fitzgibbon and U21 and he’s also playing senior so he’s had to carry a load. But he coped very well.”
Galway worked off a 23-man panel due to various injuries and Cunningham doesn’t see the situation improving much for the Clare encounter.
“It was great to see Iarlaith Tannian come on in the last 20 minutes, that’s his first match since last October or November,” said Cunningham. “Kevin Hynes is going to be another week or two. Conor Cooney only comes out of plaster next week. Joe Canning, we’re probably not going to see him or Conor Cooney until mid-March.”
It was new Dublin boss Ger Cunningham’s first time to manage them at Croke Park. Dublin led from the 10th minute until the 56th and were one up again with nine minutes to go.But just like Galway’s semi-final win over Carlow, a late burst of scoring proved decisive.
“We said from the start we were going to try to use the Walsh Cup to give people as many games as possible, to try and find a few players,” said Dubs boss Cunningham, who will name his captain this week.
“I thought some people put their hands up again. Shane Barrett did some really good things. Chris Crummey, it was his first game since playing an U21 final with his club in November. He showed he can play at this level. So pretty happy overall.”
Scorers for Galway: J Flynn (0-11, 11fs), J Regan (1-4), D Higgins (0-2), P Mannion, J Cooney, P Brehony, B Molloy and C Flynn (0-1 each).
Scorers for Dublin: P Ryan (0-8, 6fs), L Rushe (1-0), J Boland, S Stapleton, M Schutte and D Sutcliffe (0-2 each), S Barrett, P Kelly, B Quinn and C Boland (0-1 each).
GALWAY: C Callanan; R Burke, F Moore, J Coen; G McInerney, D Collins, P Mannion; J Cooney, E Burke; D Higgins, J Glynn, P Brehony; J Regan, J Flynn, B Molloy.
Subs: C Flynn for Burke (32), I Tannian for Molloy (53), P Killeen for Higgins (64), G Kelly for Brehony (71).
Dublin: A Nolan; S Durkin, P Schutte, S Barrett; S Lambert, P Kelly, C Crummey; J Boland, B Quinn; R O’Dwyer, S Stapleton, C Keaney; M Schutte, L Rushe, P Ryan.
Subs: E Dillon for O’Dwyer (h/t), C Boland for Stapleton (56), D Sutcliffe for Quinn (56), D Plunkett for Boland (65).
Referee: S Cleere (Kilkenny).