Tuesday 25 October 2016

Ollie Canning: I made my Communion, and then in my little suit, I went to see my dad play a match for Portumna

Ollie Canning (40) is an All-Star winning hurler. He played for the Galway Senior Team for 15 years. He is a technical sales manager and also a Sky Sports hurling analyst. From Portumna, he lives in Knocknacarra, Galway with his wife, Aine, and their dog, Odie

Ciara Dwyer

Published 25/07/2016 | 02:30

Ollie Canning is hurling analyst with Sky Sports. Photo: Andrew Downes
Ollie Canning is hurling analyst with Sky Sports. Photo: Andrew Downes

I live in Knocknacarra, Galway city, with my wife, Aine, and our dog, Odie. The alarm goes off at 7am. It takes me a while to get warmed up for the day. Usually I have some porridge with nuts, berries and honey, and then I pick up a coffee on the way into work. I get into the office for 8am. I work as a technical sales manager, and my hours are 8am until 5pm. I'm on the road a lot for work. One day I might be in Cork; another day, Limerick or Sligo.

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I've been very lucky in my career. My bosses were always very understanding of the level of commitment that I had to put into GAA when I was playing inter-county hurling with Galway.

They gave me leeway, and a couple of hours off here and there when needed. There were times when managers would expect players to take days off for training camps and you'd have to go away. All of these were taken out of my holidays. Years ago, companies were a bit more understanding of players, but now everything in business is hard, and it's hard for companies to make money.

I played inter-county hurling for Galway for 15 years and I retired in 2010. It was great to have a long career, but when I retired, I continued to play with my club in Portumna - I'd played with them all along. I just turned 40 this month, and you don't get many guys my age playing club hurling.

It's brilliant to be still playing. You often hear of guys retiring from inter-county hurling and, having been so involved, it's a major adjustment for them to come back to reality. All of a sudden, they don't have to be somewhere at 7pm, and they're no longer part of a team. I train four times a week. It's great to go down to the field and just have a laugh at training. When you're fit, you feel better for work and for everything.

Hurling was in my father's family and in my mum's as well. My dad played intermediate hurling with Galway. We grew up going to games at the weekend. Most Sundays during the summer, we'd be packed into the car and driven to games all around Galway, supporting my dad or my uncle.

Ollie Canning, Portumna
Ollie Canning, Portumna

I remember the excitement of those days and the banter. It gave us huge enjoyment. We have a photograph of me with my dad at a game. I had just made my Communion, and I was in my little suit with my hands clasped, and my dad is on one knee beside me, togged out in the Portumna gear.

The love of hurling was instilled in us from our parents. When I was extremely small, probably around four years of age, I'd be going around the kitchen with a hurley. I grew up on a farm, and when we were helping out our dad, moving cattle from one field to another, we'd nearly always have a hurl and ball with us.

With six boys and one girl in our family, you were never short of teammates. When I was chosen to play on the under-14 Galway team, it was a huge achievement. The minute I put on the maroon jersey, I felt like I was making the Irish team. My career advanced steadily after that. In 2010, my family set up a hand-made hurley business - Canning Hurleys - and I'm involved in that. We used to make them for ourselves, and then we decided to turn it into a business. The hurley has to have a nice balance. Now we sell them to Australia and America.

Since 2014, part of my working day includes being a hurling analyst on Sky Sports. It starts in May and goes on until the first weekend in September. For the analysis, we always go to the grounds, and then for the semi-finals and finals, we are in Croke Park. There is no greater feeling than walking out in Croke Park on the day of an All-Ireland final in front of 80,000 people. It's a surreal experience. But I'm quite content that I've had my career.

Now, I enjoy doing analysis because I can give my opinion on a sport that I have loved and played for 35 years. My brother, Joe, plays with Galway, and we have covered matches he has played in. Also, when I am watching the matches, I'd have played with a lot of the players, or against them. I know what they are going through and so, I give my honest opinion. I've had some great wins, but equally, I know what it's like to lose an All-Ireland final. It's not a nice place to be.

When Sky started showing hurling, a lot of people in the UK watched it for the first time. I think they were amazed by the physicality and the speed of the game. They couldn't believe that there weren't a lot more injuries.

From left: Sky Sports presenter Brian Carney with hurling analysts Jamesie O’Connor and Ollie Canning, and GAA anchor Rachel Wyse
From left: Sky Sports presenter Brian Carney with hurling analysts Jamesie O’Connor and Ollie Canning, and GAA anchor Rachel Wyse

The players are hardened over time. Also, they are very proficient at protecting themselves. And then, when you think of the goalie - would you stand in front of a ball coming at over 100 miles an hour, hit at five metres away? The goalies don't think of that, because their hand-eye coordination is so good; they trust themselves that they can block the ball.

Sometimes my wife, Aine, will come to a match, and when I'm finished work, we'll go for something to eat afterwards. Before we met, she wasn't into GAA. In fact, she was working in PR and she needed a member of the Galway team for photos. That's how we met, and eventually I got the courage to ask her out.

Now she is a supporter. When we first started to go out, I was training six and seven nights a week, and it was a shock to her system. She had to get used to it. My life is still very busy, and I'm not home from training until 11pm, but we make sure to go out together one night a week. It's almost like a date night.

In the evenings, I like to read books like sports autobiographies, and I'm very interested in the psychology of team sports. When I go to bed, I tell Aine that I'm going to sleep, and within 30 seconds I'm out cold, and she can hear me sleeping away. I think it's very annoying for her.

Portumna's Ollie, right, and Joe Canning following their victory.
Portumna's Ollie, right, and Joe Canning following their victory.

Ollie Canning is a hurling analyst with Sky Sports GAA. Sky Sports cover GAA Hurling Championship games throughout the summer

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