Tuesday 26 September 2017

Callanan out to take front seat on Galway's summer voyage

Callanan: Hoping for happy return
Callanan: Hoping for happy return

Declan Rooney

When your county is in an All-Ireland final there is just one place you want to be – bellowing yourself hoarse in the Hogan Stand.

For those in absentia, there is a nice GAA tradition. Before the throw-in, television and radio commentators always give a nod to exiles in the far-flung corners of the world.

"James is watching in Flushing, New York; Mary and Tomas are tuned in from Abu Dhabi, and we'd like to say hello to Gerry, who is unable to be here but is listening from his hospital bed."

Galway forward Aonghus Callanan – who took a year out to go to Australia last season – watched from a bar stool in Sydney as the Tribesmen came within a puck of the ball of dethroning Kilkenny. And he has no regrets about the seat he chose.

"It was tough to watch all right, but I wouldn't change it," he said. "Everyone needs time away and I'm very happy that I took the chance.

"I watched the drawn game in a bar in Sydney with a few of my friends but I watched the second one at home. We had some sort of a satellite box set up there and we watched it that way.

"I couldn't watch the second one in the pub, there were too many lads asking me what I thought and all that. It was easier to watch in the house," added 27-year-old Callanan, who played both football and hurling with the Michael Cusacks club while abroad.

Ignoring the famed ditch hurlers brought some solace for the replay but just a few months after walking away from the panel, at the back of his mind Callanan knew what his mates were going through.

"Looking in from a distance, I knew the work and sacrifice that the lads put in last year but there was no begrudging them their season and definitely no regrets on my part. I made my decision at the start of the year," he said.

"I knew they could have gone all the way and won an All-Ireland, but there was also the chance they could have been knocked out in the first round and the season would have been over before June. It was a chance I took and I was prepared to miss out on it all."

By that stage the Liam Mellows attacker knew he was on his way home. He got back in time for Christmas and the jet lag had barely worn off before he was back hurling again. But he came back to a hugely different game.

"It has taken longer than I expected to get back up to speed since I came back. It has been a lot more difficult than I anticipated," he said.

"I thought the standard was pretty good when I was out there. At one stage we had 10 or 12 lads that had played inter-county at home. We thought it was a high standard, but it was a bit of a shock to come home and see where the standard really was.

"Even in just one year, the game has moved on so much. The intensity and speed of play has gone through the roof – especially the physicality, that has been upped a few levels.

"Before I left, not every team had bought into the importance of being bulked up enough to take the big hits, but now everyone is at it. I would have considered myself as one of the most physical lads on the panel, but it really took me some time to get back there this year.

"My performances have picked up in training now, I feel I'm ready to play. I really didn't expect the step back up to be as significant, but I'm pushing for my place now."

None of the Galway lads will admit it, but they must have assumed they'd get a chance to avenge that All-Ireland defeat to Kilkenny in the Leinster final. Who could have foretold that Dublin resurrection after last year's 18-point mauling by the Cats?

But while most of us were left drooling over Dublin's triumph, Callanan was happy to leave his match-viewing days on that bar stool.

"I did see a few highlights from the drawn game, but I don't tend to pay too much heed to it," he said. "The main thing for me is to get my own game right and to focus on myself.

"Since I came home, I've had to put in a fair bit of work to get back into it, and it was great to get a run during the league. I came on against Tipp and scored a goal, but it was fairly frustrating being on the line looking in.

"But if you are good enough and in good enough form you'll get your chance. The team is always picked on form.

"I don't know if I'll start on Sunday, I think the term is 'available for selection'. But I have pushed hard and I am ready to do whatever job I am asked to do."

Irish Independent

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