The Castlebar Mitchels captain would have to emigrate to get work in his field, but he’s decided not to leave
IF you want an indication of how seriously some Gaelic footballers in Mayo take the game, a chat to Tom Cunniffe is instructive.
The Mitchels captain and Mayo defender is a Civil Engineering graduate but work in that field in very thin on the ground in Ireland right now.
Cunniffe reckons that ‘90 per cent’ of his graduate class of seventy are in Australia and Canada right now, and most of his best friends are too. He, however, is going nowhere.
“No, definitely not,” he answers when asked would he be tempted to join his friends ‘Down Under’. “All of my friends would be in Australia. I’d talk to them on the phone just to keep myself sane really! But I’ve worked too hard to get where I am and, obviously, I need to work even harder now.”
The last line is a reference to Cunniffe’s reflections on Mayo’s 2011 summer.
He admits he doesn’t want to dwell too much on his inter-county season before a county final, but he clearly isn’t happy with his display against Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final where he had to try to mark Colm Cooper.
“It didn’t go well for me this summer. I wasn’t too happy after the Kerry game but a lot of lads helped me out with the club and I was delighted to get back here and start playing with the lads,” he reflected.
You ask if he is being a bit harsh on himself, given that his championship was going well up to that point. His answer speaks well of his, and Mayo’s, ambitions.
“That game against Kerry wasn’t a good day. James [Horan, manager] did a fantastic job in winning the Connacht title but we want to push on.
“We had higher hopes but, at the same time, it’s his first year, it was a new team, and I know for a fact that all the lads are going to work their asses off over the winter because they really want to go far next year.”
LAST year’s county final was a difficult one for Tom Cunniffe and Mitchels.
Alan and Richie Feeney lost their father Ger, and Tom lost his uncle, Donal McEllin, in the Inishbofin drowning tragedy.
“Donal would be up at training all the time and I used to be slagging him, calling him ‘the waterboy’”, recalls Cunniffe, “he didn’t like that now,” he adds, laughing at the memory.
“He was there the whole time and Ger was at every match and so the two of them were very involved.”
The Castlebar skipper is full of praise for Sunday’s opponents. He has clearly learned about these things from being in the company of managers like John O’Mahony and Pat Holmes.
“They’ve some great players,” he begins. “They’re unbelievable at defending and then they are hard to stop when they counter-attack. They are an all-round quality team.
“I only found out there during the week that they have only lost three games in their last 42. Jesus that’s some going. I couldn’t believe that, but it shows how much of a quality team they are so it is going to be very difficult to stop them.”
So, do Castlebar have any chance then?
“Every game that we play, I’d be disappointed if we don’t win,“ he said firmly. “Even in the league I was disappointed we didn’t win every game.
“I suppose we’ve a relatively young team and the lads are at training the whole time, lads coming from Cork, from Dublin during the week. They’re really committed. I’m definitely going out there to win.”
You get the feeling it might be with more belief than he lets on too.
Factfile Tom Cuinniffe
Club: Castlebar Mitchels
Profession: Civil Engineering graduate
Did you know? In his first year at Under 16, Cunniffe was deemed only good enough for the Castlebar Mitchels U16 B team. Four years later he was an All-Ireland winning Under 21 centre-half back.