Joe Canning has sights on taking Galway one step further

County captain looking to emulate his club success with Portumna in the maroon colours of county

Joe Canning hopes to emulate his All-Ireland club success with Portumna in Galway colours this year. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Joe Canning hopes to emulate his All-Ireland club success with Portumna in Galway colours this year. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Sat, Apr 19, 2014, 09:00

The first appearance of Joe Canning in maroon this year was distinctly low-key. The afternoon when Galway and Limerick met at the Gaelic Grounds was resolutely of March: changeable and vaguely ominous skies. Although not named in the match programme, Canning took the field wearing number 19 and warmed up almost unnoticed with his team-mates in the always sombre shadow of the Mackey Stand.

Just before throw-in, he retreated to the dressingroom and his intercounty season officially began when he took the field for the closing minutes of what was a comfortable if unspectacular win for Galway.

With Canning now restored to the team, the summer comes into sharper focus and once again the familiar questions must have crossed the minds. But all of Galway hurling questions can be distilled in to one: Could this be the year? It is barely conceivable that Galway hurling could be gifted a hurler as prodigiously complete and talented as Canning and still not win an All-Ireland title during his career.

And yet Joe has been a senior now since 2008, when he made the transition from minor to senior star with staggering assurance, posting 2-12 as Galway exited to Cork. If there was a warning in that evening, it was that Galway lost: even with Canning at his most celestial, there are limits to what any lone player can achieve.

Of all the lavish descriptions and breathless superlatives used to chart Canning’s contribution to the game, it is the throwaway utterance that Babs Keating made in the early years after witnessing Canning execute a powerful and clean sideline cut, which echoes most clearly. It was, Keating said, “something I’ve never seen before . . . and I am watching hurling since 1953”.

Seventh season
That casual invocation of the mid-century was the most substantial declaration that, in Canning, Galway had its once-in-a-lifetime talent. Now, unbelievably, Canning is preparing for his seventh summer with Galway. After Galway exited from last year’s All-Ireland championship against an irrepressible Clare side, Canning returned to Portumna and to a club season that finished with another All-Ireland title for his club on March 17th. He permitted himself a few days of celebrations and then reported for Galway training with the other Portumna squad regulars.

“Straight up, it does take a bit of adjustment,” he says on a terrifically sunny day in Dublin. “Just coming down from the high of winning an All-Ireland to playing league is a small bit tough. You are doing different training too, trying to peak for St Patrick’s Day so you feel as if you are at a different stage. But you are champing at the bit to just get back training and get on the team.

“The competition is tough in that squad now and you can see guys who have been playing for the past few years finding it tough to get their place in the team so there are new guys coming into the picture which has to be good for us.”

Last summer took Kilkenny and Galway, victors and runners up in the 2012 season, by surprise. Canning was impressed by Davey Fitzgerald’s Clare team, but is reluctant to allow that Clare’s game plan represented any great departure from what teams were trying in previous years.

“To be straight up about it, if you look closely at how Galway played in 2012 there are a lot of comparisons there, as in bringing an extra man out. They did it better than us and perfected it, maybe. So a lot of people said that was a new tactic but I feel that we played very similar to that in 2012, being honest. But they had the momentum and game plan and luck and they were fully deserving of the All-Ireland in the end.”

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