Ger Cunningham sees progress in Dublin hurling, with the current side laying foundations for future teams, but it’s “first things first” - Laois tonight in the qualifiers.
“There’s progress, but you could always do better,” says the Dublin manager.
“It depends on how you judge progress? I don’t think it can always be about winning trophies, it’s also about creating a culture that encourages players to come through.
“The top eight or nine counties in hurling - it’s very tight between them. In Dublin there’s always the enticement of the football side if players are good at both, so that’s another challenge in terms of retaining players and creating good foundations.
“The team in Dublin at the moment have evolved over the last 18 months. That’s a process in place, the foundations I referred to for the next generation of players who come through for Dublin, that those foundations are solid. That’s our journey at the moment.
“Selling hurling to dual players coming out of minor? That’s a bigger-picture scenario for us, but it’s first things first. The League is over for us, the Leinster championship is over for us, so now it’s the All-Ireland series, that’s our new competition.
“The Laois game is our All-Ireland final, that’s all we can concentrate on at the moment - getting good players who are coming out of minor is something that’s not on our radar while we’re focusing on that.”
Cunningham points out that the two qualifier ‘pots’ aren’t quite equal when it comes to match-ups between Munster and Leinster team.
“It’s just the geography that’s involved really, you have three Division 1A teams in the Munster pot, any permutation of the five Munster teams in that pot would have them up against at least two Division 1B teams.
“So potentially it’s an easier draw for Munster counties, but as I say, that’s just the way the draw is organised. Whether that’ll will alter with the proposed new changes I don’t know, but it’s probably a bit inequitable - that said, what do you do to remedy it? I don’t have an answer for it either, but it just strikes me as a bit imbalanced at the moment, that’s all.”
As for those new structures, are traditional championship games like Cork-Tipperary and Wexford-Kilkenny likely to give officials second thoughts?
“A couple of the games this year have probably got people thinking all over again, while there was nearly universal welcome for the new system.
A minimum of four matches - from our point of view it’d be good for Dublin, because you’re trying to develop a young side, so having those matches - two of them at a home - would be a big positive.
“But if you look at the championship games we’ve had in the last few weeks - Cork-Tipperary, Cork-Waterford, Wexford-Kilkenny - would you lose that real championship feel if you changed it around that much?
“I think the powers that be are maybe considering it again now. You’re trying to promote hurling, to have more games, to have better games - again, it’s a matter of finding a balance there as well.”
Cunningham says Gaelic football’s higher profile is just “the way it is”.
“You have to accept that. The 32 counties play football, more or less, you’ve four divisions of eight teams, so it’s a higher-profile sport.
“You have to maximise the exposure in hurling that the 13 best teams get, while also trying to improve standards in other counties, so it’s a double job.”
Talking of standards - how does he see tomorrow’s Leinster final going?
“Everyone was saying there’d be a reaction from Kilkenny in the Wexford game, even if some of their key players were injured and hadn’t done as much training, maybe, as they’d have wanted.
“You’d still feel Kilkenny could have beaten them beforehand, but in fairness, it was a fantastic performance from Wexford, a well-deserved win.
“And Wexford are the only team to have beaten Galway this year as well, remember, so they know what’s ahead of them. Their sweeper system will definitely challenge Galway, but Galway have been very good this year, they’re playing with a lot of panache.
“They’ll feel they should have won that league game, too, and they’ll have probably learned a good bit from that game, so they’re entitled to be seen as favourites for tomorrow.”
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