'We're very, very close to the Cats' says Cunningham
ANTHONY CUNNINGHAM had just seen his team lose a Leinster final by seven points but reckons they are "very, very close" to Kilkenny's All-Ireland benchmark.
The Galway boss put a bullish twist on their prospects in the All-Ireland series, and even speculated on the possibility of renewing battle with the Cats in another September decider.
"We have a lot to build on," Cunningham proclaimed. "These guys are hurling at the top of the game and, with a bit of sharpening up, we will be a match for anyone."
He insisted "absolutely" that it will be easier to lift his troops than it was in 2013 (when they bombed to Clare in the quarter-finals, having lost heavily to Dublin) or last summer, when they wilted late on against Tipperary, a week after losing a replay to Kilkenny.
"With a performance like that, everyone knows that it was very close - and like last year, there is very little in it between ourselves and Kilkenny. But it is all about how much you improve and drive on from today," Cunningham surmised.
In his first year as manager, 2012, he had ambushed Kilkenny in the Leinster final only for the Cats to claim All-Ireland revenge. Now he hopes to "return the favour", adding: "The ball is in our court now to do that, and the 26th of July is D-Day for us now."
The Galway boss went on to suggest they are a better equipped team now than in 2012. "With a whack of new players coming in, they have bedded in very well - the Mannions, Dáithí Burke, all these players up front, Jason (Flynn) in his second season. Even the guys who would be a bit disappointed with their performance there today are huge contributors to us."
Meanwhile Brian Cody - as befits a manager taking ownership of the Bob O'Keeffe Cup for a 14th time - took it all in his stride.
"We were hit by a goal before half-time, having built up a bit of a lead, and then after half-time we were rocked back by another goal. Those are serious times to be conceding goals, especially, but our reaction, our attitude was magnificent. We're very happy," he concluded.
Cody is not usually one for one handing out individual bouquets but, prompted by a leading question concerning the contribution of wing-back Cillian Buckley, the Kilkenny boss waxed: "He's one of the most consistent players around ... I thought he was magnificent today, superb, and his performances don't dip."
Next up another semi-final - incredibly, the 16th of his 17-year tenure. Michael Fennelly cried off with a stomach bug yesterday but will be back in the August frame. There is still some uncertainty, however, over Richie Power.
"We're hopeful about Richie," Cody outlined. "He's working away, working hard, though he's having difficulty getting back. He's a player every team would love to have back, but we'll have to wait and see."
Over in the Galway casualty ward, the hamstrung David Collins "should be okay" for their quarter-final whereas Conor Cooney is "back doing running, so we would hope that he will be close enough," Cunningham ventured.