August 07, 1992
The Galway team that defeated London in the 1990 All Ireland quarter final: Front l-r: Anthony Cunningham, Michael McGrath, Joe Cooney, Gerry McInerney, Gerry Burke, Tom Monaghan, Eanna Ryan. Back l-r: Pat Malone, Noel Lane, Pete Finnerty, Michael Coleman, John Commins, Tony Keady, Conor Hayes, Sean Treacy.
ANTHONY CUNNINGHAM IS BACK
Galway cannot afford to be without this talented attacker
Galway hurling supporters, spoiled by the wiles and winning ways of men like P.J. Molloy, John Connolly, Bernie Forde and Brendan Lynskey of some years past, are openly unsure of just how potent their attacking options are this season.
From a distance the Galway attack has indeed flattered to deceive since the National League campaign re-opened last February. The confidence and assurance which were the hallmarks of the team's front men in days of yore were decidedly missing in the League campaign and something which was highlighted in the county's defeat to Tipperary in the League play-off's
Of late however, in challenge matches, most notably against recently beaten Leinster finalists Wexford, and in the team's expected victory over Carlow, the Galway attack has been assuming something like true championship shape. Doubtless aided by the benefit of P.J. Molloy's tutelage and the rigours of that with which only successive collective training sessions can stir, the Galway offensive line look once again to have recaptured their best form.
Tradition has it in Galway that the well being of the county side in the run up to the Championship can always be ascertained more easily on the training ground rather than in competition. Close observers of the Galway scene say that the omens are good. The training sessions have produced the necessary positive findings. Morale is good and above all, the forwards are niggling and clipping their markers. They say that's a good barometer of the level of intensity and ambition held within the camp.
To brighten matters up further, the return to the county panel of one of the team's most experienced and skilful operators has given the attack that extra fizz to allow them to open up to full throttle. Anthony Cunningham from the Saint Thomas club is back. The longtime inter-county attacker is relieved, not a little delighted and a touch excited about once again being part of Galway's All Ireland Championship campaign. The nature of his emotions are felt equally by all Tribesmen with a grain of knowledge about hurling.
Cunningham's resumption of acquaintance with the county panel comes nearly a year after he was dropped unceremoniously from the Galway panel. A change of management and imbued with a point to prove to folk in Galway, the return of the St. Thomas star has added a tasty titbit to the pre-match publicity surrounding the upcoming Galway versus Kilkenny All Ireland semi final.
The possible selection of the 27 year old software engineer for Sunday's match, is one of the many imponderables which surrounds the upcoming tie. How good is the Kilkenny attack; has Joe Cooney recovered his form of old and will the small matter of Croke Park experience decide the destination of the spoils on the day?
Extremely gifted, intelligent and unusually strong for an attacker, being back in favour with Galway has whetted the appetite of the Athlone based hurler for top class competition like never before. He insists that even before he was recalled to the county panel by Athenry's Jarlath Cloonan, his form never dipped. To insiders at the St.Thomas club, Cunningham's assertion certainly holds true but then again the Errickson Computers employee has always been a sound clubman.
For all his other talents, most of all his guile and experience in front of goal makes the Galway attack all the better for his presence. Finely tuned in recent days under the watchful eye of burgeoning crowds of spectators at the county training sessions, his display in Galway's 4-19 to 3-9 crushing of Carlow in the All Ireland championship play off match was a veritable throw-back to his purple spell in the maroon in 1987 when he acquired his first senior All Ireland medal. Hardly recognised as a vintage team display the forwards nevertheless did impress as the best sector on view and in true cavalier style, Anthony Cunningham romped home as his team's top scorer on the day with 1-4, all from play, of his team's final tally
Mentors may have been at odds with their respective estimations of Cunningham's worth at any given time but the player himself has held on to the admirers he has gathered as a hurler from his early formative years with the county set-up
In the company of clubmates John Burke and Ollie Walsh, Anthony Cunningham felt confident that 1982 would mark a turning point in his career. Hugely disappointed to have lost out on an All Ireland minor medal the year before, with the likes of messrs. Finnerty Malone and McInerney aboard, young Cunningham operating at top of the right trusted in the Gods to balance things out. It wasn't to be however. For many others two such successive high-profile defeats would have spelt no more. But not for Anthony Cunningham. Apathy and half-hearted approaches to the game have never been part of the Cunningham baggage. He's made of sterner stuff. They player was amply rewarded for his resolve. As captain of the county minor team in 1983, Galway and Cunningham struck gold. Justice had been done.
A school mate at Our Lady Gort Secondary School of Tom Helebert and John Cummins among others, losses at All Ireland level to St. Peter's of Wexford and North Monastery in successive years hardened the Peterswell Kilcreest teenager to the slings and arrows of defeats in top class competitive matches. A year later in the Autumn of 1984, the minor starlet would surprise no one by being called up to the county senior panel then under the management of Cyril Farrell. Like a duck taking a water Cunningham made the transition with little difficulty but with plenty of conviction.
Coming from the St.Thomas nursery, a club only founded in the late sixties, Anthony Cunningham brought further pride to his home club by capturing an All Ireland under 21 medal just two years after being sprung on to the inter-county senior stage. Cunningham's rise soon soared to even greater height. Strong and determined, He was one of the young lions which helped the Tribesmen scoop the All Ireland titles of 1987 and '88. While some at the time had cast doubts over the team's blend of youth and experience, the aggregate of skill contained within the team has seldom been equalled since
Predominately a hurling patch within a county with divided loyalties Peterswell-Kilcreest have yet to win a senior county championship in their twenty four year history. With their own club grounds and a sound fundraising base, St. Thomas have convincingly consolidated their senior status over the last ten years and more. Having won the Junior Championship in the mid-seventies the Intermediate title soon followed and in a consistently progressive campaign to join with the Kiltormer's of this world, were unfortunate to lose out to Athenry in the 1989 county semi final.
The breakthrough cannot be too far away for the Saints however. The classy Cunningham is in good company at the club. John Burke, Justin Flannery and Sean Fahy are three quality players as are Tony and Maurice Headd. Their day will come. When it does, there'll be nobody happier at the club than their current ambassador on the county team.
An elusive speedy wing forward with a fine hurling brain to match his brilliance, Anthony Cunningham is the type of player who can open up the tightest of defences on big match days especially. On a Galway attack which has found it difficult enough to bust the net in season '91/'92, Cunningham's return to the fold after Christmas has seen a noticeable upturn in their ability to shoot home in the greatest possible way their 'oft time outfield advantage
From a staunch G.A.A. family, the summer months have always suited his 5 feet, 11 inch, 12 stone frame best. The firm ground and calmer days during championship season are the conditions relished by accomplished stickmen who can snap a point as a matter of form. Unlucky to have been on Galway teams beaten by Cork in 1986 and 1990, the St. Thomas' hitman didn't figure in the pre-Christmas league fare and reports from home suggest that the Computer Engineer is refreshed and renewed. Kilkenny have taken note of Cunningham's return. Cork would do well to do likewise.
Apart from your average hamstring problem incurred intermittently over the years, Anthony Cunningham has enjoyed an injury-free career to date. Strangely for a forward, breakages have been few too and his innate speed off the mark, which has taken him clear of his marker, has given him more room at times to score than one could ever imagine in a hurling game. Over the years Galway have been thankful for a Cunningham, at full throttle. They may wish for a similar hand out in the days ahead too.
Being involved in the run-up to an All-Ireland semi-final helps negate the worst onslaughts of déjà vu. By his own admission, League fare fails to race the necessary adrenaline through a body's every sinew and fibre. The combative Cunningham over the course of swinging through mud and long grass of a winter's evening is but a pale shadow of a Cunningham with the sun on his back. Staleness brought on by winter trudgery can often have the most draining effects on even the most polished hurlers 'cum milder afternoons. The threat of such stagnation can really only be offset by a decent break. Anthony Cunningham is certain to benefit greatly from his sabbatical in the last year. Kilkenny may not.
Reconciled by now to the long term unavailability of Eanna Ryan, Galway have welcomed Anthony Cunningham back in his stead. Supercharged, superskilled and fleet of foot, the Saint Thomas ace has the ability to cover the loss of Ryan and more. He can restore Galway to it's former eminence.
Taken from Hogan Stand Magazine 07-08-92
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