A year to remember for Coby

Cunning: “I’d love to be sitting in the house knowing I might have training on Boxing Day”

Brendan McTaggart speaks with Dunloy forward, Conal Cunning ahead of the Cuchullains semi-final with Galway champions, St Thomas’

2022 has been something of an annus mirabilis for Conal Cunning.  A truck load of awards at club and county level after his escapades with the Saffrons and Dunloy.  Last Sunday he added a first senior Ulster Club medal to his collection after he helped the Cuchullains to get over the line against Slaughtneil.

Having led by five at half time, the Cuchullains had to dig deep and ‘Coby’ told us it was a matter of he and his team mates trusting the process: “We done things very well in the first half.  Our composure on the ball and our work rate was unreal.  I think we deserved to be five up at half time and look, Slaughtneil came out and had a good spell for 10 or 15 minutes but we stayed in there.  We didn’t panic.  We stuck to the game plan and we came out on the right side of things.”

Going into that game with Paul Shiels, not many outside of those connected with the Pearse Park side gave them much hope of finally getting past the Derry men.  Cunning said to have ‘Shorty’ come off the bench along with the other subs was pivotal: “Shorty’s been the man and we know what he’s capable off.  To see him coming on and with the other subs.  Decky Smith was flying all year and was unlucky with his injuries.  It was unreal for him to come on.  We knew we had them two boys to come off the bench along with the likes of Nicky McKeague, that’s how we get wins.  It’s 20, 25 or 30 boys on this panel that are capable of doing what needs to be done, put a shift in.  The boys drive each other on in training full time.

“Whenever we got beat last year and previous, all you think on is Slaughtneil.  Even during the Antrim championship I heard ones saying in the crowd ‘you’s will never get over Slaughtneil,’ it does hover over you and you do think about it but you try to put that to one side and concentrate on ourselves.  We look at the things we’ve done wrong and where we can improve.  We done that and it worked out fairly well.  It was always going to take our best to beat Slaughtneil and that was one of our best.

“The hard work that’s gone into this, a lot of defeats and heartache to come back and continue to put the hard work in back at training and in the gym.  It means so much.

“Slaughtneil set the standard for the last few years and to get over the line against them was an unreal feeling.

“I’ve never been as delighted to get back to training on a Tuesday evening in my life.”

Sunday will be Dunloy’s first game at this stage since February 2010 where they faced Galway opposition, Portumna.  Of that team, Shiels, Kevin McKeague, Kevin Molloy and Conor McKinley are still part of the playing squad.  Cunning spoke of his memories of that game in Parnell Park before adding: “Bunga and Kevy were playing against the likes of Joe Canning and Damian Hayes and that.  I was maybe 9 or 10 but that’s something I’ve always wanted to achieve.  To get to this stage and play against the best there is.

“That’s the boys we looked up to.  It’s all about the youth, they were doing it for us and now hopefully we’re inspiring the next generation.  We hope they’re looking at us and hoping they can be like us and play for Dunloy in an All-Ireland semi-final or better.  Hopefully the cycle will continue.”

St Thomas’ will be a massive challenge for Cunning and his team mates.  The last four of The Toughest competition will yield no easy opposition but it’s business as usual for Cunning: “We’ve done our analysis and what work we can do on them but at the end of the day its 80-20.  20% what they do and 80% we’ll look after.  We hope we can perform and if perform to our best then the result will take care of itself.

“We looked at things we did well against Slaughtneil, like the whole championship, we’ve always looked at what we can improve on.  At this level you have to and this is another level again.  An All-Ireland semi-final against boys who have won All-Irelands, county All-Irelands.  It is another step up but we’re really looking forward to it.”

Club All-Ireland semi-finals in Croke Park are a rare occurrence.  The last involved the Cuchullains in 1996 against Kilkenny champions, Glenmore.  One of the finest performances from the Cuchullains on the All-Ireland stage but Cunning insists playing at HQ’s will hold no fear for Gregory O’Kane’s men: “We’re lucky enough in the last couple of years with the Joe McDonagh finals to have that experience and it’s not every day you get the opportunity to play in Croke Park and every day you do play it’s a pleasure but at the same time it’s just a pitch like another other with concrete walls around the sides, a few plastic seats and the same smelly old toilets.

“Coming up to Christmas, the whole Parish is in some form and this has just added to it.  The buzz is unreal but hopefully we’ll keep that good feeling going on beyond Christmas and reach an All-Ireland final. 

“I’d love to be sitting in the house knowing I might have training on Boxing Day but it’s going to take a big performance and we will need to play at our very best, if not more, to get there.”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.