Galway hurling star Joe Canning reveals his love for Connacht rugby
Hurling superstar - a handy underage rugby player in his day - grew up pucking around with Connacht skipper and says his triumph is 'phenomenal' for Portumna and east Galway
It wouldn't have taken too many twists in the road for Joe Canning to have been playing for Connacht in Murrayfield last weekend and John Muldoon to be lining out for Galway in the Leinster SHC on Sunday in Mullingar.
The two are neighbours in Gortanumera a few miles outside Portumna in south-east Galway, a townland which has also produced Damian Hayes and his band of hurling brothers in addition to the Cannings and Muldoons.
Muldoon was a hurler before he was a rugby player, winning an All-Ireland minor medal with Galway in 2000 and also a couple of county minors with Portumna before concentrating on the oval ball.
Canning, while always destined for the hurling field, dabbled in rugby with Portumna and Ballinasloe and was being monitored by Connacht before it became apparent where his destiny lay.
Canning, though, has always supported Muldoon; and the Connacht skipper, the first man from the province to lift a trophy, has always kept a big interest in hurling and is regularly spotted at Portumna and Galway matches.
"John is a next-door neighbour of mine from home in Gortanumera, we grew up only a couple of hundred yards from each other, down through the fields," says Canning.
"John won a club minor A and B with Portumna and won a minor All-Ireland with Galway, so when I was growing up he was one of the guys I looked up to - even in hurling circles.
"And what he has done now since he went into the rugby has been phenomenal for our parish and our locality as well.
"He has represented Ireland as well as Connacht at different levels and when you look at Connacht and home-grown guys, John is probably what everybody sees Connacht as.
"We're very proud of him in Portumna and in east Galway. He never forgets where he comes from either. He comes down pucking around the odd time during the summer when he is off.
"We support him as much as we can by getting into the Sportsground and we are all delighted for the success he has enjoyed."
Canning, a triple All-Star, is six years younger than Muldoon so they never played on the same underage teams, but Canning enjoyed his time in rugby.
"I played a lot underage in school and then with Ballinasloe as well for a number of years. We won a lot of U-14s, U-16s, and U-18s at Ballinasloe," he says.
"I played out-half, or maybe first centre or full-back. I enjoyed the kicking a bit.
"Out-half was probably where I played most of my schools and club rugby."
Canning, who recently stepped down from his role as sponsorship and PR manager with Liberty Insurance and is opening the first Camile Thai restaurant outside Dublin at Parkway Retail Park in Limerick in a couple of weeks, is looking forward to the start of another Championship campaign.
But while the attacker is concentrating on the clash with Westmeath on Sunday, a member of the next generation of Cannings is also making marks at both rugby and hurling.
Jack Canning, a son of Joe's older brother David, has been playing for the Cistercian College Roscrea side which won the Leinster Schools Senior Cup last year and were runners-up this season.
"They won it last year and he was on the extended panel last year, but he played flanker this year, both sides," says Joe.
"He enjoys it, he's a big guy. I think he's 6ft 3ins and 90kg or something like that. He is even bigger than me, so he's a big boy.
"But he looks after himself fairly well. He enjoys the rugby and loves his hurling as well," adds Canning, whose nephew has been bidding for the Galway minor hurlers this year.
But whether he goes for rugby or hurling, 17-year-old Jack Canning won't have far to look for inspiration in either sport.
Sport star of the week
Connacht’s fairytale season could not have been scripted any better than their talismanic skipper raising the Pro12 trophy after putting in an impressive man-of-the-match performance against Leinster.
Muldoon made his debut for his home province back in 2004 and has been through all of the highs and lows that Connacht have had since then. The 33-year old is an embodiment of Connacht rugby and after a terrific season, lifting the club’s first major trophy was the most fitting ending to an epic journey.