Having it Gal’ to do
Cunningham champing at bit to prove the Tribesmen hotseat no poisoned chalice
GIVEN the enormity of the task Anthony Cunningham is facing in sculpting a consistent and successful Galway hurling team and abating a trophy-starved public, it’s probably just as well he hasn’t had much time to consider his newest assignment too intensely.
The Indian summer to his Indian summer as manager of Garrycastle will end on St Patrick’s Day but until then, he has one of the most poisoned of managerial chalices fighting for his attentions, beginning with Sunday’s visit of Dublin to Salthill.
“There's always huge expectation in Galway,” conceded Cunningham, who was appointed to the Galway big gig on the back of last year’s All-Ireland under-21 triumph. “It's a mad hurling county.”
When his under-21 team had beaten Dublin in Thurles last August, he was already halfway through his final year as Garrycastle manager and as it happened, it became their most successful, hence Cunningham’s dual mandate for the earlier part of 2012.
But after seemingly endless failure, scepticism is in no short supply in Galway and Cunningham’s underage managerial pedigree is unlikely to stretch out his honeymoon period.
Underage achievement isn’t exactly thin on the ground in |Galway.
“We've had a lot of underage success and that piles on additional pressure,” Cunningham conceded.
“Lads are wondering where all these players have gone to. The challenge is to get these guys to develop to a higher level, to senior level.”
How his style of management will deal with the intense temperatures of the senior inter-county cauldron is yet to
be seen, but the signs from last year’s impressive All-Ireland winning under-21 team are positive.
Tactically, Galway were superb in the final, employing pace in the traditionally size-dominated full-forward position through Barry Daly, who alternated the role with David Burke and exploited the Semple Stadium space to devastating effect.
“Dublin would play a lot with a two-man full-forward line,” he notes about Sunday’s opponents.
“They would sweep around the half-back line quite a lot. Clare and Waterford, now with Davy (Fitzgerald),
“Davy’s style would be to pull their half-forward line very deep so yeah it has evolved. Puck-outs are another huge thing that have changed in the game of hurling. But still, a lot of it is down to first touch and ability to win the ball in the air.”
Much of the current Galway tactical equation focuses on where Joe Canning will be deployed, but Cunningham has been denied that conundrum for a few weeks after the Portumna ‘genius’ injured his shoulder in a Fitzgibbon Cup match last Tuesday.
A hint of where Canning might ply the majority of his trade might be seen in that under-21 team, though, where Cunningham admits choosing physically big and strong players right across his ‘middle eight’.
“I think now you need a very physical and tall half-forward line and you need a strong half-back line,” he mused.
“Yes, you would be looking for that type of player. The aerial battle now and being able to win that (is important), but it’s one thing being able to do it at under-21, it’s taking it up to the next level.
“You don’t realise it until you come across it first hand how good, for example, the Kilkenny players are in the air and how strong Tipperary are in the air.
“Yeah, you definitely need in certain quarters your height and athleticism and physicality for sure. The intensity of hurling has really gone up,” he adds.
“There’s quite a lot of tackles now in hurling, a lot of hits and I suppose the game has changed a bit. There’s a lot of different options in the game now.
“It used to be far more direct. It’s probably more combination play now to a degree.
“So there’d be parts of that that have come from football.
“Hurling has got up to the level of football fitness which I’d say, five years ago, was probably ahead of hurling.
“Now it could be the other way around,” added Cunningham.