Joe Canning: ‘David Clifford is just the perfect symbol for the modern day’

The hurling great opens up on ‘the biggest superstar in GAA’, social media and the lure of commuting from Limerick to Galway

Joe Canning is in a cinema looking at himself on the big screen.

It must be a curious sensation to see your greatness flash before your eyes in high definition – snapshots from your life as an underage prodigy all the way to the pinnacle of leading your county to an All-Ireland senior title.

Former Cork footballer Noel O’Leary is in the theatre too, as is Tom Parsons from Mayo, ex-Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy is at the other side of the auditorium, former Waterford footballer Áine Wall is in a seat close by.

They are among the eight figures who will feature in the 21st series of Laochra Gael on TG4. But at the launch in Dublin’s Lighthouse cinema on Monday, it is the opening few minutes of Canning’s show that the producers choose to screen. His episode will be the first in this new series, airing on Thursday week, January 26th.


Canning clearly remains the big draw. Before David Clifford – and yes, there was a time before David Clifford – Canning was the GAA’s boy wonder. Few can understand the manic fandom swirling around Clifford these days, but Canning experienced similar adulation during his career.

“I can, in some ways,” says Canning, when asked if he can relate to the Clifford phenomenon.

“When I was starting out, social media was only just starting to become prominent. He’s not on social media, I believe. He’s a fair man to keep off that in today’s world.

“I still don’t know a lot about him, which I like in a way because he lets his football do the talking on the pitch, and stuff like that.

“So yeah, I admire the way he’s going about things. He is I suppose the biggest superstar in GAA at the moment, especially after the year he’s having.

“He’s somebody that you’d have to really admire, for any kid coming up nowadays. You look at him and he’s just the perfect symbol for the modern day.”

During his playing days Canning too had to put up walls to protect himself from the constant attention that came with being the most recognisable hurler in the country.

It often meant he was a reluctant figure when it came to media interviews, so when he was asked to open himself up for the Laochra Gael treatment, Canning admits, it took a reset.

“[When I was playing] I was very guarded a lot of the time when I was publicly speaking, or how I portrayed myself in public,” recalls Canning.

“So, I’ve spoken about a couple of things in the show that I’ve never spoken about before. Hopefully that gives an insight on some things anyway.

“In one sense I am a very guarded person but in another sense when you do a show like this when you’re retired, you let your guard down a little bit and talk about things. So hopefully when everyone sees the show they’ll see that side of me.

“I wasn’t that long retired [when I was asked to do it] so I was kind of humming and hawing for a while and spoke to people at home and they kind of said, ‘Listen, they’ll be nice memories to have in the future.’

“Even looking back on some of the little pieces that we saw today, it’s nice to kind of remember the memories from a good few years ago that you don’t really think about any more.”

He’s still playing for Portumna and will remain involved with the Galway minor hurling management team in 2023. Canning recently married Megan Hoare from Monaleen and has been living in Limerick for the last two years, but he won’t be switching club allegiances.

“No, I’d never do that. I’ll stay with Portumna as long as they want me and as long as I can play. I’ll never change club, no,” he says.

“I enjoy going back up home two or three times a week [for training], it’s good to see Dad and stuff like that and see the lads and the family so it gives me a good excuse to go up home as well.”

Limerick has become the home of the Liam MacCarthy Cup in recent years and while the chasing pack will be out to end that dominance this term, Canning does not believe the upcoming league campaign will give away too many indications of where teams stand.

“I think the league isn’t going to be a fair reflection, we saw it last year, Limerick didn’t get the results in the league but the championship came and they were right,” he recalls.

“Look at Waterford last year, they were really good in the league but didn’t have enough to continue in the championship so it will be interesting to see what way teams will approach the league, will they target a couple of matches then lay off for a few matches? I don’t think you can really judge how people are going for the championship until it actually starts.”

– Joe Canning’s Laochra Gael will air on TG4 on Thursday, January 26th at 9.30pm.

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning is a sports journalist, specialising in Gaelic games, with The Irish Times