Sunday 21 January 2018

Change of colours for Cunningham as Rebel legend opposes native county for the first time

Dublin manager Ger Cunningham
Dublin manager Ger Cunningham

IT was put to Ger Cunningham at his first media gig as Dublin boss that his inevitable, if belated, arrival to inter-county manager-dom hadn't panned out quite as he might have expected.

"I suppose I wouldn't have thought that I'd be sitting here as Dublin manager and not Cork manager," he nodded. So it's probably only fairly recently that he began to fully consider the looming experience of standing on the line in opposition to Cork.

Because like all sporting icons from that particular county, he is identified by his very Cork-ness every bit as much as he is his chosen game.

Yet the dark melodrama of the internal workings of Cork GAA have thus far inexplicably denied Cunningham the job currently occupied by his former team-mate, manager when he was a selector and St Finbarr's club colleague, Jimmy Barry-Murphy.

Cunningham's first coaching involvement with Cork came in 2004, five years after his retirement, on the invitation of then manager, Donal O'Grady.

Three weeks before Cork's Munster SHC final against Limerick in the Gaelic Grounds, Cunningham took the Cork 'keepers, Donal Óg Cusack, Paul Morrissey and Martin Coleman for a specialised training session and Cusack, in particular, raved about his methods.

When John Allen stood down in 2006 and despite a call for continuity from both Allen and the squad, Gerald McCarthy was given the job, a development which initiated the decline of that particular theme.

Cunningham kept schtum, but in the book 'Blood Brothers,' an in-depth tome of that eventful time in the cycle of hurling's most eventful team, he eventually spoke his mind.

"You can't really assume anything when you're involved with the Cork team," he told author Michael Moynihan.

"And when the call didn't come, I never really pursued it to the situation where I put everything in place to be in a position to be appointed.

"But when the call didn't come, irrespective of having played for twenty years and having been a selector for a couple of years, not to even get a phone call to say, thanks very much for this or that, we're going a different road …That would be fine."

His appointment alongside Barry-Murphy in 2012 appeared to sooth some of those sores and he was given huge credit for Cork's largely unexpected appearance in the 2013 All-Ireland final.

When John Gardiner was asked to preview the match, he reckoned: "the tactical battle will be good to watch between Davy Fitzgerald and probably Ger Cunningham."


Yet Cunningham left the setup after defeat in the replay, fuelling suspicion that he and Barry-Murphy weren't as tight as perceived, a theory going back to his own retirement from play.

First choice goalkeeper for 18 years, during which a dozen pretenders came and went without making such as a deep crease in that Cork number one jersey, Cunningham was informed that Cusack would, after two years as understudy, be preferred in goals for the 1999 season by a member of Barry-Murphy's management.

"A couple of things would have disappointed me with the way it happened," he told Christy O'Connor in his book about hurling's golden generation of goalkeepers, Last Man Standing.

"I felt I deserved better treatment after that length of time as to how the whole thing finished up.

"I felt I could have gone out with a bit more dignity. I suppose," he admitted. "I felt let down."

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