Nicky English: Joe Canning has the most important say: the last

Tipperary produced their best display in 2017 but it just wasn’t enough on the day

Galway’s Joe Canning looks on after scoring the winning point against Tipperary at Croke Park. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Galway’s Joe Canning looks on after scoring the winning point against Tipperary at Croke Park. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

Before the game I found it hard to separate Galway from Tipperary.

That remained the case for 73 minutes.

Only Joe Canning’s moment of magic did that for all of us. His magnificent point from under the Cusack Stand and his contribution in the last 15 minutes of normal time is enhanced by how much he was struggling until then.

In the opening 34 minutes Canning was far from the dominant figure in this All-Ireland semi-final. Even his free-taking was not of the usual flawless standard. From placed balls, he left 0-5 out of a possible 0-13 out of the field. If not for Seamie Callanan’s wayward shooting from 65s that probably would have cost Galway the game.

I even thought Canning was carrying an injury in the first half. But the sideline ball he pointed was an important reminder of what he was capable of.

After that he came to life. The scores down the stretch – even factoring in his missed goal chances on 56 and 61 minutes – are why Galway move on to September and Tipperary were denied a replay they seemed to have earned.

There was a big shoulder by Canning on Michael Breen early on (when the Tipp midfielder was pulled off straight after) as the hits from last year’s meeting were reversed. Even Paudie Maher came off second best in a ferocious collision with Gearóid McInerney.

There really is nothing between these teams. And Tipp did show up.

This was their best collective performance in 2017. The hunger was back, they hit hard, worked tirelessly and eight men registered at least one score. That should be enough for Tipperary people to be proud of them.

But this semi-final will always belong to Joe Canning. He forced himself into a game that threatened to pass him by.

Galway supporters have found many ways to give out about Joe since he first arrived as a phenomenal teenage talent. Initially they were overly dependent on him and then, in recent times, he wasn’t doing enough! The narrative has long centred around a growing fear, year on year, that his career will end without an All-Ireland medal.

But this was the sort of recovery Usain Bolt could have done with the other night. Both stalled in the blocks. The difference is Joe kept his composure, remained calm and eventually found a way to have the most important say on any contest: the last.

An anxiety

It’s remarkable what he did. With half-time approaching he had a yellow card for collaring Paudie Maher along with some uncharacteristic wides.

Then, after putting Breen over the sideline, he clipped the ball between the posts. He still found time for another wide and another free before Galway went under the Hogan Stand one point adrift due to John McGrath’s goal.

Canning was majestic when it mattered most and Galway needed him on this day as much as they ever have because others were suddenly misfiring when the game demanded accuracy. That, I’d say, was down to an anxiety that can spread through any team on the cusp of an All-Ireland final they so desperately need to reach.

Galway struggled with being the favourites. This happens to teams not used to winning All-Irelands. Everyone is saying ‘This is your best chance to win it in 30 years’ and that seeps into the subconscious.

Take David Burke. The captain and a man with as silky a touch as anyone in hurling, Burke was at odds with himself at times. Himself and Johnny Coen were outworking Tipp around the middle of the field but Brendan Maher and particularly Dan McCormack wrestled control of this area because Burke, like many of his team-mates, was let down badly by basics that are usually automatic.

I felt Galway needed goals to win this game. They had several opportunities but Darren Gleeson made some brilliant stops. Also, Paudie Maher was superb again at wing back.

But the more Galway spurned these chances the more anxious they became. That allowed Tipperary to stay in it, to ship some heavy blows and still be exchanging scores, even pulling level as we entered the last seconds of injury time.

Nerveless sharpshooters, Bubbles and John McGrath, ensured that was the case. It was as close as Tipp have come to regaining an All-Ireland. There is no shame in this defeat though. The game came down to tiny margins. Callanan will have regrets but his wides were an abnormality I’d be shocked to see reoccurring.

This game was a pleasure to witness. Galway had the edge for most of the second half but it needed Canning to separate them. But he was not alone. Joseph Cooney continued his good year, Johnny Glynn made some impact and Conor Whelan yet again showed he is a fantastic hurler.

Others failed to spark. That won’t be acceptable in the All-Ireland. They don’t need to revert to an overdependence on Joe. Those days are over. Those days won’t deliver Liam MacCarthy.

They know that themselves. Now, it really has become the best chance to win the All-Ireland since 1988. Flush out the anxiety and they will be set free. Maybe victory over Tipperary will have done that.

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