GAA Football

Cunningham adjusting to impact sub role

Paddy Cunningham turned 36 yesterday but has settled back into the Antrim panel for another season.
Paul Keane

PADDY Cunningham reckons his final few months as an Antrim footballer could be spent as an impact substitute, a change that he accepts would require a 'mindset' adjustment.

The prolific attacker turned 36 yesterday and has vowed that this will definitely be his last year in yellow after agreeing to new manager Enda McGinley's plea to stick around.

Cunningham came out of a previous retirement to play for former boss Lenny Harbison in 2020, starting six League and Championship games and slotting 0-33.

He was held in reserve against Louth last weekend in Antrim's Allianz League opener and came on to drill a picture perfect point from the left wing that inspired a comeback win.

Asked if he was always coming back this year, the 2009 Ulster final captain shook his head.

"To be honest, I wasn't," said Cunningham. "I had said it to Lenny last year that it was definitely going to be my last hurrah but obviously then lockdown number two happened. Even at that, I had sort of felt that after the Cavan game in the Championship that would have been me.

"But Enda and Stevie O'Neill and the boys obviously came in. Enda gave me a ring and asked to meet them for a chat. Once I turned up to that I couldn't get out of the room without saying yes to them, to be honest.

"They're men that demand respect, Sean Kelly too, I teach with him at St Mary's, a fantastic footballer for Antrim and Stevie's record with Tyrone speaks for itself.

"It was an attractive setup to come back into. I suppose the big thing this year is getting used to the role that they're looking for me to play. Obviously you always want to play but I'm 36 and I'm not getting any younger.

"Hopefully I can offer something, be it either off the bench or trying to force myself back in for a starting role."

Cunningham, who was diagnosed with Crohn's, the inflammatory bowel disease, a decade ago will play out his remaining inter-county days with a smile on his face after receiving his Covid-19 vaccination jabs.

He described the previous year or so as 'very worrying' as the condition placed him in a high risk category, forcing him to live cautiously.

"Obviously I was shielding over the first and second lockdown but thankfully I'm fully vaccinated now," he said.

"We're lucky in the north, the vaccination process has been very fluid and I was high risk so I was fully vaccinated about six weeks ago. To be fair that gives you more confidence and reassurance. You still have to be very careful but definitely getting the vaccine gives you that wee bit more piece of mind.

"The R rate in the north seems to be a bit lower than what it is in the south. Hopefully the south can catch up with that and push on with the vaccinations. At the end of the day, we're not fully through this.

"There's alarm bells at the moment with the Indian variant and we don't know how that will react with the vaccination. So we just need to be careful."

What's certainly is that Cunningham will pull the shutters down on his county career in the coming months, when Antrim's Championship campaign ends.

"This is 100% my last year, 100%," he said. "Probably the most difficult thing of all are the things that you're missing. I have a young lad who is eight years of age, he had his first soccer match on Saturday, before we played Louth. I was just glad we weren't meeting until 11.30 so I could go and watch it at 9 in the morning.

"My wife has done the heavy lifting for such a long time now, she's been a tremendous support. That's probably the most difficult thing now, the things that you'd miss out on. Now that he's playing soccer and Gaelic, you're not getting to take him to training and you're not involved so that's probably a large part of the decision, separate to my age. It's just time to go back home and put a shift in."

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