IT MUST be very hard to watch your county compete in make-or-break games from halfway across the world, knowing you would be on the squad were you at home.
That itch will be scratched in 2020 by Aaron Cunningham as he has re-joined the Clare senior squad since his return home from Australia.
The Wolfe Tones man decided to travel the world in 2017 and his voyage took him to San Francisco and Melbourne, with a few pitstops along the way.
The Shannon man is now back and – his fellow clubman and Clare manager Brian Lohan will hope – it’s with a vengeance.
Cunningham is known for his speed and the 26-year-old will be hoping to hit the ground running in 2020, but he knows it is going to take a massive effort to hit the heights he did before leaving.
“I thought about going back with Clare and I said that I wasn’t going to do it if I wasn’t 100 percent behind it as you are wasting your time otherwise. I think the break I had has built up a massive hunger in me and even though it is hard in the winter months, when you step away from something like this, you will always have a hunger for it. Especially when you are looking on from the outside. I have that hunger to get me through the next few weeks and months and god only knows what’ll happen come the summer.
“I’m only back with the lads since the start of January. For the last two or more years I have just been hurling socially, really. I wouldn’t have been training or playing anywhere near the level the lads are at, so it is a massive shock to the system. I have a lot of work to do, as you can imagine. I have been in bits since I started back with them.
“It’s my own fault really as I was in holiday mode for a lot of the time while I was away. I’m really paying for it the last few weeks and I’m sure it will take a small bit of time to get back up to their speed. It will be tough for a while but worth it if I come out the other end,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham’s last foray in the Saffron and Blue saw him bag two goals against Tipperary in an All-Ireland quarter-final loss in 2017 and fellow Wolfe Tones’ man Lohan will be hoping Cunningham’s potent finishing skills haven’t waned in his time away.
Cunningham says it was more by chance than design that he re-joined the Clare seniors.
“I would have played under Brian for one season in Shannon in 2009 or 2010 and that would have been my only exposure to him, and I actually had no contact with Brian while I was away. My sister was getting married and I had to come home for the wedding, and I decided to stick around for Christmas.
“When I left Australia, I hadn’t actually decided if I was going to stay in Ireland or not, but things fell into place, so here I am. To be honest, in one sense it feels like I’ve only been away for a few weeks, it shouldn’t be too hard to slip back into things.
“Everything has been really positive in the new setup so far, for all that I’ve only been with them roughly two weeks. When you have a man like Brian in charge, at this time of the year there is always going to be a buzz. Lads really look up to him and there is no one better than someone who has lived it and done it to try and lead you. It is all very positive so far,” Cunningham expressed.
Looking ahead to what is a pivotal year for Clare hurling, Cunningham believes the squad have shown they are talented enough to reach the upper echelons of hurling and he is confident the squad can leave a poor 2019 well in the rear view mirror.
“I think last year was bit of a flop, but the year before with the replay and getting back to Croke Park showed that there is a serious panel there and that they’re capable. I think the thing that needs to be done is getting into the top three or four teams and staying there rather than getting there once every four or five years. I am definitely optimistic when looking ahead to this year, though,” insisted Cunningham.
While some aspects of assimilating into inter-county hurling will make Aaron feel like he was never away, a new-look Munster championship is something very new to him and something he is very excited to tackle this year.
“Being a supporter for the last couple of years, I think it has been brilliant. I’m not sure what it is going to be like to be part of, though. Players are always giving out though and saying they want more games and that we are training too long, so I think it is brilliant that we get to play every team in Munster and we’re getting more games than you usually would,” Cunningham finished.