2018 is the season Clare fans will reflect back on and wonder what could have been. After losing the Munster final, they came within one point of reaching the All Ireland final after two epic battles with Galway.
For the players involved, it must have been gut-wrenching to have come so close but for one former hurler, watching his beloved county even reach Croke Park was difficult, considering he was thousands of miles away.
Aaron Cunningham featured for the Banner county in the 2017 Munster final, coming off the bench to score a point. Having been part of the U21 group that won the All Ireland in 2014, he was probably expected to make his mark on the senior scene but life rarely goes to plan. When he decided to go travelling to Australia 18 months ago, he probably didn’t expect to settle in Melbourne, but that’s what happened.
Twelve months on from his appearance in the Munster final against Cork, he watched on from afar as his county once again lost out to the Rebels. Nevertheless, the qualified for the All Ireland semi-final and Cunningham watched his friends and former teammates run onto the hallowed ground.
“It was really tough. I was actually in America for the summer, I went travelling over there for a while, so I was watching the games from over there. I think when I left I knew it was going to be hard when that time of the year came around. “
“No one misses the slogging around December or January but to see these guys who you’ve trained with for so long heading up to Croke Park in the middle of summer, it’s tough to watch.”
“They had a great year last year, were very unlucky. It is hard but it is what it is. I made the decision and I’ll just have to stick with it but I’ll definitely be supporting the lads all the way. I didn’t miss a single game all year.”
“No matter where I was, I made sure to find somewhere to go to watch the game and I’ve followed them the whole way, I kept in contact with a few of the lads and that’s all I can do, really, from this far away.”
On the first All Ireland semi-final day, 100 minutes of hurling action and 62 scores could not separate Clare and Galway and the 2017 champions only edged the second game by a point in what was an equally thrilling game. Despite the initial heartbreak, Cunningham reflects back on 2018 as a positive year and the fact that the underdogs, Limerick, emerged victorious, only gives him more hope for 2019.
“Clare and Galway, the two games were unreal. A lot of people probably wouldn’t have given Clare a chance and the fact that they were level on the first day and only a point in it after the second day shows that the gap between the top six or seven is practically nothing now.”
“It’s probably the best the hurling championship has been in ages.”
“Limerick getting their breakthrough for the first time in so many years, it gives a lot of hope to those ranked sixth or seventh in the country. Next year is going to be unbelievable, even the Munster championship alone, anyone could win it.”
Regardless of where he is in the world, one thing’s for sure, he won’t miss a second of the action as he settles into his new role of unwavering supporter.