Ahead of the new campaign, View From the Ninian caught up with Galway’s finest; Greg Cunningham. After a very frustrating couple of year’s, he’s fit again and looking to make up for lost time.
You joined Cardiff a couple of years ago and the transfer felt like something of an open secret. Neil Warnock had praised you up and he needed another left back. At what point were you aware of the interest and how did the transfer unfold?
There had always been rumours. When the window is open, there’s speculation, but I don’t pay much attention to it. I was coming to the end of my last season at Preston, I got a call off my agent for me to come down and try and get something sorted. After the impressive season Cardiff had had in getting promoted, it was a great opportunity for me to come to this great club and the chance of playing in the Premier League was huge. As a player, it’s where you want to be. I met the manager, had a look around the stadium and we got things done and dusted.
What was the appeal of the transfer? The chance to play in the Premier League, as you’ve already mentioned, the chance to play for Warnock, a change of scenery or all of the above? You appeared very comfortable and valued at Preston.
I’m always looking to challenge myself. I think the main attraction at the time was playing in the Premier League. I’ve worked very hard over the years and kept my head down, so this was an opportunity I thought I couldn’t turn down. When I spoke to the manager and saw the training facilities, knowing what playing at the Cardiff City Stadium is like for away teams, it can be very volatile and I thrive on that sort of atmosphere. So it was a combination of all those things and I was delighted to come down and get settled. To try and put my stamp on the team and help as best as I could.
You were going up against Joe Bennett, who was established in the side. Did the fact that you would not necessarily be first choice make you wary of the move at all?
You have to have confidence in your own ability and I was coming down here to push him for that number one spot. That didn’t happen under Warnock and I wasn’t coming down here to be number two because I felt like I had a lot to give. That’s still the position I’m in now and I still feel like I have a lot to give. You just have to work hard on the training pitch and when the opportunity arises, you have to take it.
How did you find the Premier League season, personally? Presumably you didn’t play as much as you would have hoped, but how do you think you fared in the top flight?
It was a great experience for everyone, but a frustrating time for me on a personal level. It went the way it went and I gained a lot of experience from it though. Obviously I would have liked to have played a lot more, to get a run of games and get my consistency up, but I couldn’t get much of a rhythm going. It was frustrating, but now I want to do as much as I can this season, coming back from my injury, to try and get us promoted and have another crack at the Premier League.
How did you find working with Warnock? Was he up front with you about your limited opportunities, or was there any sort of friction between you?
I’m a respectful person and as much as I had my frustrations, I understood and do understand the positions managers find themselves in. It’s tough to keep everyone happy, so I always kept my head down and worked hard, tried to bide my time until an opportunity arose, which was fairly limited. I spoke to him a few times to see what he felt or if there were aspects of my game that I needed to work on. I’ve never been one for banging the door down, it was just a couple of conversations regarding where he saw me and how things were going. A little feedback to see where I could improve, or things that he was expecting from me that I might not be doing. Those were the conversations we had and I never had much back, but that was my approach, to try and get as much as I could out of the season.
The following season, you joined Blackburn on loan. Did you instigate that move, or was it more of a Warnock suggestion?
No. We went away to America for pre-season and after a frustrating first season for me, I felt that the challenge for me was to become first choice left back and play regularly. So I worked hard over the summer to come back in good nick and I was pleased with how it went in America. Then just before the season started, Neil called me in to his office and we had a conversation and he said that I needed games, but it wouldn’t be at Cardiff.
I don’t think I was expecting it because about a week before the start of the season. It didn’t really turn out the way I wanted and he said I needed to go out on loan to get games. I said OK and rang my agent to try and get something sorted, but I was hoping I would have had a bit more time to see if any teams needed a left back. Blackburn did, so I went up there and spoke to Tony Mowbray. We had a great chat and it was obviously a loan that got cut short, but I had a great time there and enjoyed the game time. Just before my knee injury, I felt that I was coming back to playing the way I know I can. It was just getting that run of games and having a manager that had that confidence in me.
You were playing regularly there before you tore the anterior cruciate ligament in your knee. How did the injury happen and how was your rehabilitation?
It was about eight games in and I was feeling really good in myself again. After a frustrating year, it was a case of proving to myself and others what I can do. It was a game at QPR just before the international break. I had been called up and I was feeling really good, then about 15 minutes in, on the edge of the box I slid in to make a tackle and put the ball out for a corner. As the player tried to jump over me, his knee has hit the inside of my knee, so it was a strange one because it was an impact injury, as opposed to a twist or a turn, but I felt it straight away.
I wanted to give myself a few minutes though because sometimes you can run it off and I thought it might just be a bruise, but the next time I had the ball, I swivelled and felt that the knee was unstable and so I put it out of play. I went for a scan on the Monday and got the results Monday night. I got the surgery done about two weeks later because you have to wait for all the swelling to go down. It didn’t swell up too much though and felt fine when I was walking around. I was able to do a few bits and bobs in the gym before surgery.
It was heartbreaking though because I worked so hard, and for Blackburn too. They took me on loan and I wanted to repay their faith, but the rug was swept from under me. After a few days of feeling sorry for yourself, you have to pick yourself up and the medical department at both clubs were brilliant. It’s part and parcel in the game and I’m fully over it now.
You finally made it back on to the pitch recently after almost a year out. That must have been a wonderful feeling. Neil Harris said that you received a standing ovation when you returned to the changing room.
It was nice. It’s one of those where it’s been so long with the way Covid has gone and the delays. I was just itching to get back out. We did an in-house 11 vs 11 and even that felt great, just to enjoy those game-related scenarios. It was really nice to get out there for Bristol Rovers away and get some minutes under my belt. It was my first game in a while and I felt really good, just dusting the cobwebs off and getting the body moving again. I got 15 minutes there and got some more game time at Cheltenham, so it’s just about racking up the games. It’s been a frustrating two years, to put it lightly, but it’s almost like I’ve had two years off. I didn’t really feature in my first year at Cardiff and I’ve been doing my rehab, working on certain aspects of my physique to improve and try and come back a stronger player than I was before. I know I’m 29 now, but I feel younger and that there’s lots of miles left in the tank.
Have have you found working with Harris and what has he said to you about your role for next season?
He’s been really good from minute one. When he got the job, I came back down to Cardiff to do my rehab down here. He called me in to his office and we had a really good chat about what he expects from his players and how he likes to work. It’s nice to have a manager you can have a good conversation with. At the minute, it’s just a case of me getting my head down because I know I’ll get a fair crack under this manager and a chance to get more game time.
It’s a long season, there are going to be up’s and down’s, niggles and injuries. We’re all pulling in the same direction, but we all have our own goals. The end goal ultimately is what’s best for the team and the club, which is promotion. I want to be playing as many minutes as I can and contributing as much as I can to this club, who have shown a lot of faith in me over the last couple of years. I want to repay that because that’s the type of person I am.
Finally, what are your hopes for next season and beyond at Cardiff?
I’m in the last year of my contract and I feel that will take care of itself. I have a full year to show to the manager what I’m about, as a player and a person. That’s all I can do. You can’t really fret about getting a new contract, you have to take everything as it comes and be the best professional you can be. There have been no talks at all and the stuff that goes on upstairs, that’s why you’ve got an agent, so that you don’t get distracted or complacent. We should be fighting for automatic promotion, with the play-offs the worst case scenario. As we’re concerned, that’s firmly within our reach, to carry forward the momentum we showed last year and apply ourselves in the same manner.