GALWAY BOSS ANTHONY Cunningham has hailed the decision to alter the structure of this year’s senior hurling championship in the county and believes that there have already been benefits for the Tribesmen’s aspirations at inter-county level.
As they prepare for next Sunday’s Leinster SHC final against Kilkenny in Croke Park, Cunningham has revealed that the task facing himself and his management team has been helped by the chance to watch their players at club level already this summer.
This year the Galway hurling board have implemented an overhaul that was first announced last December whereby group round-robin games take place earlier in the summer as opposed to the old prolonged system and Cunningham reckons there have already been positive offshoots from the move.
The St Thomas club man, in his first year as Galway senior manager, is also pleased with the scenario in early July that sees Galway preparing for their third championship game of the season as opposed to what he was accustomed during his own playing days when winning All-Ireland senior medals in 1987 and 1988.
“I think the changes have been really good for Galway hurling,” Cunningham told TheScore.ie.
“You have a situation now at club level whereby all but one round of games in the groups have been played. That’s meant the players have been getting regular action and we’ve been able to look at them in a championship environment with their clubs.
“This is all great preparation and it’s what needed for the county to progress. With Galway now we’ve had two games over Westmeath and Offaly, and while there’s still aspects of our play that we wouldn’t be happy with, be that our defending in the goals we’ve conceded or some of the chances we haven’t taken in attack, we are improving.
“We’ve a long way to go but the increased amount of games our players are getting is sharpening our play. And I think amongst Galway hurling people, the expectations are sensible about where we’re at. We’ve been without success for a long time. But in order to get back up there, we’ve to be patient as it’s going to take time.”
Cunningham is presiding over a team that has undergone vast changes in recent times. It’s only two years since they last face Kilkenny in a provincial decider but only five of the team that started that day – Tony Óg Regan, Andy Smith, Damien Hayes, Joe Canning and Iarla Tannian – were in the team that started in last month’s semi-final victory over Offaly. There has been an infusion of youth to the squad, particularly from last year’s All-Ireland U21 winning outfit.
“We still have a good mix despite the number of players. Guys like James Skehill and Joe Canning have a lot of senior hurling under their belt despite still being young. David Collins is back now after having had an ankle injury that kept him out for the Offaly game.
“I’ve found it very enjoyable working with this squad and the biggest thrill is working with some very talented players. I’ve very good people around me in Tom Helebert and Mattie Kenny who do the coaching and they’re a huge help.”
He’s pragmatic enough to realise what’s ahead of them next Sunday. The bookmakers have labelled Galway at a 5/1 shot and after witnessing Kilkenny’s recent demolition job on Dublin in Portlaoise, Cunningham can understand why they are such overwhelming favourites.
“Look Kilkenny are the best there is at the moment, no question about that. I was there that night for their semi-final and they were really impressive. Dublin would have been disappointed with their performance as they fell away after the first ten minutes. But Kilkenny were their usual clinical selves and they make opponents pay for mistakes. They are the standard we have to reach but it’s a game we’re really looking forward to.”