If you heard Anthony Cunningham speaking on RTÉ’s League Sunday last weekend, the chances are you detected a rasp of a sore throat on the Galway manager.
The ailment was still audible this week but by next Bank Holiday Monday he will be just as hoarse if not worse when he patrols the Pearse Stadium sideline as Galway hope to get back to winning ways against Tipperary.
Sunday will see him in Croke Park in the unique position of having two clubs play in the All-Ireland senior finals, his native St Thomas’ in the hurling decider followed by his adopted one St Brigid’s in the football decider.
Although a fully-fledged member of St Brigids’ Kiltoom parish, he gets back to Peterswell as often as he can where his mother is involved with St Thomas’ camogie set-up.
Managing St Brigid’s to Connacht honours as well as three county titles (not mentioning plotting their downfall with Garrycastle last year), he knows just how much getting over Crossmaglen meant, having lost to them in the 2007 All-Ireland semi-final.
Having lived in Roscommon for 20 years, he and his wife May are more than assimilated in the Roscommon club. His son John currently plays with the minors while his daughter Aoife is on the ladies football team.
“I’m hoping it’ll be a great day for the west,” he smiles. “St Thomas’ will have to play out of their skins to win the game.
“Kilcormac-Killoughey had an excellent result against Thurles Sarsfields and Oulart-the-Ballagh and that can’t but stand to them.
“St Brigid’s will have to be at their best. Their experience should stand to them, they were very close two years ago but this Dublin side have massive confidence and are getting a good few behind the ball.
“The one thing I’d be hoping is that the Brigid’s forwards would score a bit easier than the Ballymun guys.”
Not surprisingly, he’s close to the St Thomas’ management. “I hurled all my life with John Burke and it’s a close-knit community. I get back a lot but I suppose with county training you don’t get there as often.”
Given the rising level of competition in Galway, Cunningham feels St Thomas has to strike while the iron is hot.
“This is only St Thomas’ first year winning a county title never mind an All-Ireland final and their talent has really come to the fore. They’re like St Brigid’s were five or six years ago when they first hit the scene.
“For St Thomas’ to win it, they need luck as well and they have to realise they may never get the chance again. That’s how competitive it is in Galway at the moment but they do have a lot of young players coming through.”
Wearing his Galway manager’s hat for a moment, Cunningham has felt the absence of the St Thomas’ contingent from his panel so far in the Division 1A.
“We probably missed them a shade in the Galway set-up. There are four of them on the panel and Bernard Burke was on the panel for the league last year. Paul Cooney is a brother of Conor’s and he’s been out injured and you’d feel for him because he would have been centre-back with them there on Sunday. He had a serious hip operation but he should be back during the summer.
“It’s a tremendous time and they have some fantastic hurlers there in Shane Cooney and David Burke’s Eanna. They’re minors and they’re very good prospects. There’s as good as you’re going to get.
“Their skill levels are very high but knowing Danny Owens for many years and knowing Offaly teams they’re never beaten. Their will to win has got them through all their matches easily.”
Cunningham knows it would have taken a lot of mental fortitude for St Brigid’s to beat Crossmaglen given they lost to them in the two previous All-Ireland series encounters.
That’s not to say he believes it will be a burden on them facing Ballymun.
“What they have to wary of is it wasn’t a final but a semi-final they got over. That can happen. I think they know the deal, though, and they’re in a final and want to put a final to bed having gone so close before and that should outweigh everything, really.”
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