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Galway offer Mayo inspiration

By Declan Bogue

Last Sunday your faithful correspondent was just pulling out of Clonliffe College after a day spent at the joyous All-Ireland hurling final.

Two sturdy gentlemen walked past the front grill of the car, instantly recognisable; Pete Finnerty and Anthony Cunningham. Former team-mates who won the ultimate glory together in Galway maroon during the '80s, yukking it up as they made their way from the scene of the latest triumph.

Cunningham appeared for all the world a man who had parked his hurt at being ousted as county manager at the end of 2015.

That September they were four points up on Kilkenny at half-time of the All-Ireland final. While they ultimately lost, it seemed he was getting there inch by inch with the team.

Just prior to Cunningham's exit, Finnerty had words for the media about where the real blame lay in their second half final collapse: "I don't think the players have a right to blame anybody for that except themselves."

The progress of the new hurling champions to now could be assessed as an accumulation of the 'critical non-essentials'. Cunningham was a big part of it, including the introductions of big units such as Jonathan Glynn and Jason Flynn.

Still, Cunningham did not get the love. No name-check from the steps of the Hogan Stand in captain David Burke's speech. A small pity on a great day.

This is the sort of thing that can happen when bad blood lingers. In 2014, the Galway panel invited Cunningham to leave with his dignity.

The county board wavered, but he survived with the proviso that he would get it right.

He went to work and introduced a level of detail that was eye-watering and exhausting. As well as ramping up their physical and fitness work, he introduced Ruth Kilcawley, a nutritionist who had previously been in the camps of Mayo footballers, a handful of Olympic athletes and Connacht Rugby.

When Galway players completed training, their meals were timed for optimum nutritional impact.

At the serving hatch they could study a pie chart of their plates with the requisite portions for protein, carbohydrates and vegetables. Whatever they were doing in training, the optics would alter accordingly.

And to think Rio Ferdinand once whinged about chips being banned from the Manchester United canteen!

Still, after losing that 2015 decider, Cunningham eventually walked in mid-November. It was almost entirely bloodless. There were few follow-ups or interviews that touched on the nitty-gritty of the departure other than generalities.

A month previous, the Mayo joint-management team of Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes suffered the same fate. They did not go quietly.

The statement heralding their resignation had a salty tone: "It is with heavy hearts that we wish to announce that we (Noel Connelly & Pat Holmes) are stepping down from our role as joint managers of the Mayo Senior Football Team with immediate effect.

"By resigning we wish to remove any obstacle that the players might perceive as preventing them from winning the All-Ireland."

This is called, in the vernacular, 'holding a gun to your head.' Want to revolt? Fine. But back it up.

In March of last year, with Galway's new manager Michael Donoghue getting used to the role, Finnerty took aim and stated: "With all that went on in November and December, and with the demands the players made, they have to realise by making those demands they were nailing their flag to the mast and putting pressure on themselves.

"The people of Galway are expecting as much as Anthony delivered, which was bringing them to an All-Ireland final where at half-time they were leading."

Thankfully, for all concerned, they delivered on their promise and their talent. The long-held suspicion that Galway had a soft centre was blitzed this year in lifting every cup that was available.

Which brings us neatly to Mayo.

Another Connacht county, fabled and shaped by their disasters and what-if stories. Used as a handy punch-bag and a punchline by many.

While Galway's progress has been steady and methodical, Mayo don't play by those rules and they continue to blarge all the way to another All-Ireland final and a chance at redemption.

Should they lose against Dublin on Sunday week, then the flood of criticism will keep coming Mayo's way. The most entertaining and brave of all the counties will be the subject of scorn and - hey! - those that mocked Aidan O'Shea innocently posing for selfies with those kids that nondescript evening in Mullingar might get the chance to dust off their 'Told you so's!'

The truth is, inter-county management is a brutal business, getting ever more brutal. And the judgements are getting harsher. God be with the days that all that worried managers were the opinions of print journalists.

Nowadays any halfwit with a smartphone can get a fair airing for their opinion, no matter how incorrect or badly-judged.

And where does that leave the footballers of Fermanagh? They moved against their manager Pete McGrath a couple of months ago, but what more could they do, or how much more capable of achieving success are they? What would success even be?

Which leaves us to pose the question. Is a heave only worth it if you win an All-Ireland afterwards? Over to Mayo and Stephen Rochford.

Belfast Telegraph

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