Cunningham's patient and passionate sporting adventure

GAA

By Cian O'Connell

For Anthony Cunningham it has chiefly been about matches and memories.

Cunningham hailed from the proud Galway hurling club, St Thomas', but he has made a coaching mark in both GAA codes.

When a decorated playing career finished Cunningham took pleasure in preparing and readying football teams for action.

Before taking on the Galway senior hurling job Cunningham had enjoyed splendid success with St Brigid's and Garrycastle. Football had captured the imagination while growing up in Galway.

"Even though I am from a hurling background, over the years, I wasnt around in the 60s but the only thing talked in our house was the three-in-a-row," Cunningham says about the salad years of Galway football.

"The picture of that three-in-a-row team was in every house, we knew all their names. That was in the early 70s and Galway hurling was not strong at that time, and it was the footballers who were in Croke Park in 1973 and 74.

"Then you had the John OMahony era, the Padraig Joyce years when they had tremendous players, the Meehans, Ja Fallon, Michael Donnellan and Kevin Walsh at midfield, we got to know those players and they were our idols really."

Cunningham was reared on stories of Galway's heroic team of the 60s before starting to join his father and uncles on the road to Dublin in the 70s.

Anthony Cunningham has steered Roscommon into the 2019 Connacht SFC Final.Anthony Cunningham has steered Roscommon into the 2019 Connacht SFC Final.

"There was huge interest though and the likes of my father and my uncles they learned to drive by going to Croke Park to watch the Galway footballers play in the 50s and 60s," Cunningham states. "It was all football then.

"I was very young, but I was there in 1974 when Liam Sammon missed the penalty. I was a minor in '83, so that year I got to get to know the Galway footballers because we shared the same medical crew. I was in the Cusack stand that day. They were our idols that time."

Ultimately, Cunningham watched and wondered what the future might hold, subsequently occupying a central role in a glorious stint for the Galway hurlers under the totemic Cyril Farrell.

Managing Roscommon against his native Galway in a Connacht SFC Final was never part of the grand plan. "I am good friends with Kevin and I did not ever think that," Cunningham laughs.

"When I was with hurlers we used to trade a few notes, he is a tremendous man, a gentleman.

"They used to train alongside us as well so I did not think I would be back facing the might of Galway but, look, it is sport and I delighted to do it. It is an honour, really."

It has been a curious campaign for Roscommon, who despite summoning several gutsy displays were still relegated from Division One of the Allianz Football League. The summer has brought joy, though, with a victory over Mayo at the penultimate stage out west proving what can be achieved.

"The one line I would have used to all the players afterwards is that the Mayo performance would be of no use to us if we cannot back it up with a second performance," Cunningham remarks. "It is going to be very difficult. Galway are a top class team. They were very unlucky. I thought they could have made the breakthrough to get into a final in the last few years.

Anthony Cunningham and Kevin Walsh shake hands following Galway's Allianz Football League win over Roscommon at Pearse Stadium in March.Anthony Cunningham and Kevin Walsh shake hands following Galway's Allianz Football League win over Roscommon at Pearse Stadium in March.

"If we dont back up our performance and go really close to beating Galway, it is of no satisfaction to us if we dont do that.

"Having said that we are only one game away from the Super 8s, but while they are extremely important it is how we perform on the day."

Cunnigham believed that potential existed in Roscommon, who contest a fourth Connacht showpiece in a row against Galway on Sunday.

"Yeah, last year in the second half Roscommon had a run on Galway, had a number of scoring chances, but were still not able to break them down," Cunningham recalls. "That is what we will work on, trying to break down a very defensive unit, but Galway can attack too because they have very good players.

"Damien Comer, who we may see in the final, is a fantastic player, Shane Walsh, the Dalys - they are just fantastic players, they have talent everywhere. The Corofin element in Galway now is huge. Liam Silke, Kieran Molloy, who is as talented an attacking wing-back as you will get, and what they have done for Galway football is huge."

How Walsh has stitched a competitive Galway team together is worthy of the utmost respect and praise according to Cunningham.

"Some people in Galway and other places might not like it, but I think they are excellent at their game plan, and their execution of it over the last few years and maybe were at times unfairly criticised," Cunningham comments.

"They are extremely hard to break down; they have big tall and physical players so it is going to require huge patience." That is what Cunningham continues to show throughout his interesting coaching career.

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