Semi-final spot is most Galway can hope for – Canning
Former Tribes star fears 2012 finalists no longer genuine All-Ireland contenders, writes Liam Kelly
Former Galway hurling star Ollie Canning believes the Tribesmen will do well to reach an All-Ireland quarter-final or semi-final this year.
Canning, who is preparing with his Portumna team-mates for the AIB All-Ireland club final on St Patrick's Day, is not confident about the county's prospects for the season.
He says the disappointing 2013 campaign has resulted in lowered expectations among supporters.
"All you want to do is just see the team putting a good hour's performance and doing their best," he says.
"If they come up against a team that's superior to them on the day, I'm never going to give out about guys that come against a team that's better than them.
"Obviously you might have a couple of complaints if you feel that they're not working hard enough, or their heads are not in the right place or whatever.
"I'm comfortable watching Galway, I enjoy watching Galway, and every day they go out I just hope they can do their best."
Canning soldiered long and with commitment to the Galway cause until he retired in 2010 and played in two losing All-Ireland finals.
The absence of a Liam MacCarthy medal on his trophy-laden sideboard is a regret, but much as he would love to see the hallowed Cup cross the Shannon again, the 37-year-old Portumna stalwart votes with his head rather than his heart at this time.
Canning believes that any assessment for the 2014 season can only be based on Galway's most recent championship form, and that means taking the reality of last year's results into account.
This time last year, Galway were expected to kick on from 2012 when they won the Leinster title and only lost the All-Ireland final to Kilkenny after a replay.
Instead they went on to surrender their provincial crown to Dublin, and Clare beat them in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
Canning admits he didn't want to listen to suggestions that Galway follow a good year with a bad one, but that's the way their campaign evolved.
"The expectations are back at a way lower level now than they were last season," he says.
"I don't see them in the top two or three teams. Every year the bookies have them up there as potential All-Ireland finalists but I think the expectation is lower than that.
"If Galway can aim for a quarter-final or semi-final this year, then I think that's progress.
"I wouldn't say they over-achieved two years ago. I'm just basing it on last year's performances. The way they played last year, and the form they were in, I don't know if they are All-Ireland contenders."
Nobody knows better than Canning, whose brother Joe is the county's talisman, that Galway produces talented hurlers.
He does, however, question whether public impatience for success and pressure to change managers over the years actually undermined the Tribesmen's aspirations rather than helped them.
"I just felt that some of the managers in the past didn't get enough time, and I don't feel the change of managers on a regular basis is a good foundation for building a team," he says.
Tomorrow Galway go into the lion's den that is Nowlan Park against a Kilkenny team hungry for league points.
It's a daunting prospect, and Canning would be happy if the Tribesmen avoid a mauling and take some positive lessons from the encounter.
"They have to take it as it comes. I know there are a couple of injury worries and the Portumna lads won't be there," he says.
"Maybe that's the time Galway could go down there and shoot the lights out.
"What I think Galway have to look for is some solid performances. If they go to Kilkenny, and Kilkenny win well, but Galway still perform, that could be good enough.
"It's going to be very tough. The league is very competitive, as can be seen by the results.
"Brian Cody seems to have found a couple of new guys again and Kilkenny are firing on all cylinders at this stage.
"I just hope Galway go down there and put in a good performance."