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Anthony Cunningham a year on from Galway exit – 'It was soul-destroying'

Cunningham admits that returning to the top level is very much his ambition.

Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

ALMOST A YEAR on, Anthony Cunningham’s in a good place.

Business Development Manager at Athlone IT’s Software Research Institute, Cunningham is also in partnership with Kilkenny hurler Michael Fennelly.

Cunningham had already come up with the brainchild, Coach Finder, a one-stop shop for clubs and county teams looking for managers, coaches, nutrition expertise, psychology and guidance on how to develop.

As a guy working professionally in these areas, this is where Fennelly came in.

Business is brisk at this time of year, moving season at club and inter-county levels, and this week alone, it was confirmed that highly-rated young strength and conditioning coach Ross Corbett will link up with the Sydney Swans academy in December, Coach Finder and Fennelly playing conduit there.

On November 16 last year, Cunningham resigned as manager of the Galway senior hurlers, the victim of a player heave.

It was well-documented at the time and in his resignation statement, Cunningham blamed ‘misguided’ players and outside influences at play in the coup.

He says now that the experience was “soul-destroying” but time’s a healer and during the summer, he worked with the Laois senior footballers from May until early July, having been invited in by then manager Mick Lillis.

More recently, he was involved with Westmeath senior hurling finalists Clonkill, and while Cunningham was linked to a number of inter-county positions since the end of the season, he’s prepared to wait until late 2017, admitting that returning to the top level is very much an ambition.

He says: “I’d love to manage teams again, day in day out.

“I could never say where it will be, I’d like to be freelance for a while to do what I did for the last year, a number of very enjoyable weeks with Clonkill, working with Laois, and coaching days with various clubs, working with young and adult players.

“There’s great variety in it. I would love to return to inter-county management, yeah, but it probably won’t be this season. Maybe this time next year.”

Despite his Galway experience, Cunningham’s stock remains high. He’s highly-regarded, well-liked, and guided Galway to two All-Ireland final appearances in 2012 and 2015.

But it transpired that an influential group of players wanted change after last year’s final defeat to Kilkenny.

Cunningham reflects now: “It was unfortunate and soul-destroying, to be honest.

“I think there’s a lot of different factors. Everyone sort of knew it was pushed by a few guys who wanted to extend their existence at inter-county level.

“That led to a few meagre souls being unhappy and wanting to stay there.

“There was huge work put in, it wasn’t just one year, I was there since 2012 with backroom teams, improvements annually, trying to get to a professional level.

“You’d almost rear a number of these guys, a lot of guys need help as well, 19, 20, 21-year-olds looking for guidance on work, life, hitting low spots and (needing) help with different aspects.

“Ultimately everyone wants to win and we were in a leading position in the two All-Ireland finals, and didn’t go on to win.

“They were hard to take, bitter disappointment for everyone involved, players, management, county board. However, it was a bolt out of nowhere.

“Contrary to discussions, there was never any trouble in Galway. These guys played for years and never had a bad word out of them, or discontent.

“Behind the scenes, it’s well-documented what went on, an unfortunate aspect of the game that creeps into clubs and other counties as well.

“The association of players and their bodies have got very strong. I don’t think (county) boards, on the management side of it, haven’t moved as professionally as the players’ bodies.”

Cunningham chose not to wallow and where others may have opted out, he travelled on the All-Star tour to Austin, Texas, last December.

It was a tricky few days but Cunningham shared a few beers with Fennelly and bounced business ideas off him.

“I needed someone working in the coaching sphere,” says Cunningham.

“Michael does that for a profession and is very ambitious in the development of sporting excellence both on and off the field.

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“He lectures and has the strength and conditioning part with Setanta and Limerick IT.

“He thought the ideas were very good and had an avenue where he would have access to trained professionals graduating. And clubs are getting very professional, as well as counties.”

Fennelly suggested some tweaks to Cunningham’s business model and they’ve been going since last March. There’s an application fee involved when loading CVs and profiles, and a finder’s fee if a suitable candidate is successfully placed. A recruitment agency, in effect, as well a coaching resource that can be availed of.

“It’s both clubs and counties, but we’d like it to go across different sports as well,” Cunningham says.

Keeping busy helped him to cope with the Galway fall-out.

“Players-wise, we had a huge bond and put a lot of work in, some of it on the field, some in the background,” he says.

“To some degree, you’re a father figure and they’re like your sons, really.

“Obviously a huge amount wanted to be a part of it but then there was a number that obviously didn’t.

“You’d be in a disappointed stage for a long time but I was delighted to work with teams again this year. Lessons learned but the whole side of the administration has to get stronger,” he insists.

Cunningham attended Galway’s All-Ireland quarter-final victory over Clare in Thurles, and the semi-final defeat to Tipperary.

“Very good against Tipperary, clinical against Clare and got there,” he notes.

“You’d have to be impressed by them but going forward, have we the players coming through? I still think another three, four, players (are needed) and we will need players to emerge to do that. That’s the big question, the challenge.”

***To find out more about Coach Finder, visit www.coachfinder.club***

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