Constant improvement is key for Galway

The flame still burns strong: Anthony Cunningham is ready to set fire to Kilkenny's challenge on Sunday. Photo: Sportsfile

The flame still burns strong: Anthony Cunningham is ready to set fire to Kilkenny's challenge on Sunday. Photo: Sportsfile

"Brian's a fierce competitor and he'd fight for every ball there, whether it's a Galway ball or a Kilkenny ball - and so would I.  The thing we'd love to be doing is  still playing," says Galway hurling manager Anthony Cunningham of his Kilkenny opposite Brian Cody.

The Ballinasloe man, who was a two-times All Ireland winner for Galway, hopes it will be second time lucky for him on the sideline come Sunday against Kilkenny in the final. 

While the county basked in the glory of Galway's win over Tipperary in the semi-final in an epic encounter, it was back to business for Cunningham not long after the final whistle had been blown.

"As soon as the match is over, you're trying to get preparations ready for the next day. You really want to see what the injury concerns are. You have to let the guys relax that night, they haven't really been out during the summer, and then Monday and Tuesday, we were back and planned what the sessions were going to be for the next three weeks, it was business as usual."

It is all about winning finals now

Winning semi-finals is something that just not good enough for Galway anymore, says Cunningham.

" Semi-finals are for winning and improving on and taking what you can from the match and what you can from the championship and getting ready for your opposition. I think over the years Galway in the seventies and eighties were probably content to win semi-finals and be up there. But for the last 20 years we're only content to improve. Gone are the days to be happy with a big performance in the semi-finals. Supporters are not happy with that any more and they're right, it's really down to the final day."

The level of intensity in Galway's training has been upped this year,  and Cunnigham agrees  the competition for places has become really intense.

"We've a very strong panel of players.  David Collins is very unfortunate to have been out with injuries, he's our captain and it's very hard to get back in. Fergal Moore is another former captain playing very well in training, Paul Killeen our full back at u-21 played very well in that semi-final.

"Greg Lally, you saw came into matches, Gearoid McInerney and the likes,  the panel is very very strong, and couple that with Shane Maloney, Brian Molloy, who did very well last Saturday with u21s, we definitely have a panel of guys who are playing for places.

" That's the beauty of it, you don't have much encouragment to do."

Cunningham has thrown in a few wildcards this year when he thought the time was right and he has not ruled that out happening in the final.

"Absolutlely, we pick on form, it's what we pick on all year. You look at Brian Molloy, he's very close to getting in, there are some really very close calls for us.  It's really how well players do in training matches, and while we like experience and experienced players, it's good that we have that type of game and sharpness to bring in."

Learning from mistakes

Galway struggled to get moving against Dublin in the Leinster quarter-final, but clicked in the replay, and Cunningham says it was the honesty among the players as to what went wrong that day that saw them blitz the Dubs in the replay.

"The thing that happened most was that guys had to put their hands up and said why they were responsible for not taking a goal chance or point chance, or defending an opposing players. Everyone has to know where to improve and they grabbed that with both hands."

While losing the Leinister final was not in the plan, it did give Galway a chance to gather some momentum in the quarter-final before they took on Tipp in the final four.

"Defintely [was a help]. There was a nice break in between them, that was a big thing for us, having two or three weeks in between those games. Consistant hurling, but not Sunday after Sunday or Saturday. Last year we played three games in 13 days and that's not possible."

And Cunningham says Galway have also moved on since 2012 when they lost to the Cats in the final.

"In 2012 we didn't improve enough from a semi-final to the final to win it. We don't want to make that mistake this year. We have to improve again and there were aspects of the play the last day and from the Leinster final that we want to improve on.

"For us it's how you home in on your game irrespective of what goes on. That's the big thing for us." 

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