Galway County Board officials are hoping the possibility of alterations to Anthony Cunningham’s backroom team will appease the players and persuade them to get behind the manager.
It is understood Cunningham may be persuaded to change the make-up of his assistants in an attempt to encourage the panel to agree he should remain on in charge for the 2016 season.
In a bid to be conciliatory, the individual or individuals would be agreeable to the squad. Since last week, the names of a couple of hurlers who retired from the inter-county scene in the last five years have been mentioned as potential selectors.
The news comes as a two-day media moratorium was agreed by the county board, players and Cunningham, as officials and the St Thomas man hope to come to a resolution. However, players remain staunch in their opposition to Cunningham remaining at the helm for a fifth year in charge, particularly after their objections which were put to the manager the weekend before last went unheeded and seemingly ignored.
Were Cunningham to amend his backroom team, it would be the third different crew he has worked alongside since his debut season as manager in 2012. After a disappointing 2013 campaign, coach/selector Mattie Kenny and selector Tom Helebert stepped down and were replaced by Eugene Cloonan and Damien Curley. This season, Cunningham’s former Galway team-mate Pat Malone was added to the ticket.
Whether Cunningham stays or goes, the board hope to bring a conclusion to the stand-off by the weekend when the county’s senior quarter-finals take place in Athenry. Having led Galway to two All-Ireland finals in four years, 50-year-old Cunningham is keen to remain on having been given a three-year extension at the end of last season.
However, his position is teetering towards the untenable in the face of such strong player opposition.
The county board executive could also come under fire. A number of club delegates are said to be aggrieved by how they were not informed of player unrest when Cunningham appeared at the hurling board meeting in Oranmore last Monday week. Suspicion had grown in the wake of a meeting being called just 24 hours after the initial gathering when Cunningham, who was not in attendance, had been put forward for ratification only for the executive’s proposal to be blocked.
Unaware of the facts, clubs may yet demand that Cunningham face a second ratification vote even if a truce, however unlikely it may be, is called. Some still hold reservations about how Cunningham was chosen to serve again as manager last year, having been interviewed along with the likes of his former selector Kenny.
Cunningham’s name went forward after county chairman Noel Treacy had the casting vote on the selection committee.
After losing to Kilkenny last month, Treacy gave a wholesome endorsement of Cunningham. “I would say we are about 5% short of where we need to be to win an All-Ireland. I believe Anthony and his management team are the ones to lead us to that. I had to use my casting vote last year for him to stay in charge; the vote was three-three whether he should go or stay. I think the decision to keep him in charge was vindicated. We have made progress, a lot of progress.”
Cunningham has several other supporters in the county as well as outside, where former Galway manager Ger Loughnane and Daithi Regan have backed him in recent days. However, he is not without his detractors among his own generation.
On RTÉ’s Up For The Match programme the night before last month’s All-Ireland final, Cunningham’s ex-colleague Sylvie Linnane was critical of him, having previously queried his tactics and team selections in 2013.
In July, captain Andy Smith questioned Cunningham’s decision to reveal that he told Brian Cody after the Leinster final earlier that month that he would see the Kilkenny manager again in the All-Ireland final.
“Yeah, they were strange comments,” said Smith.
At the time, it was just as unusual a remark for a team captain to make about his manager but now in the context of a reported “no confidence” vote following the Division 1 quarter-final defeat to Galway sounds consistent with the mood in the camp.
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