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Bye bye Ollie, and don't mind Marty

THE place won't be the same without Ollie Canning, for so long the crown prince of corner-backs, who now looks set to join the pantheon of modern-day great hurlers who never won an All-Ireland senior inter-county medal.

But not if Marty Morrissey has his way!

Canning was interviewed on RTé Radio's 'Sport at 7 Extra' on Monday night and effectively confirmed rumours that he had announced his retirement to the Galway dressing-room in the wake of their harrowing one-point defeat by Tipperary.

The Portumna ace had said at the start of the season that this would be his last year and reckoned he would probably stick to that promise now.

Cue a wave of "please don't go!" pronouncements, live on air, from Pat Spillane, Cyril Farrell and especially Marty, who seemed determined to cajole an on-air recantation from Canning before the end of the interview.

Spillane pointed out that he still felt in great shape when he eventually quit inter-county football at 35 -- whereas Ollie is 34 and, the Kerry legend surmised, close to another All Star this year.

Nicky English also urged the Galway veteran to "think about it" for a couple of months; the Tipp great then echoed a valid point made earlier by Ger Loughnane on The Sunday Game the previous afternoon.

Namely this: Tipperary's last two points, Gearóid Ryan's equaliser and Lar Corbett's priceless winner, stemmed from the corner of the field that Ollie usually patrols with such consummate skill.

Is it conceivable that Galway could have drawn (or even won) if Canning hadn't been forced off with a leg injury after 67 minutes, stemming from a frustrated pull that earned a yellow card for Tipp talisman Eoin Kelly?

The answer, of course, is that we'll never know ... and such idle 'whatiffery' won't do the Galway hurlers any good as they mull over another season of unfulfilled promise.

Still, it won't stop the pundits or Curve Ball for that matter. For the record, Galway were two points up in this epic encounter when their defensive sweeper par excellence departed.

Even a hobble-free Canning wouldn't have stopped the next Tipp point: John O'Brien caught a Tipp puck-out in the half-forward line and duly bisected the posts.

For the all-important last two scores, however, it is just possible that a certain No4 with that distinctive red helmet would have appeared from nowhere to flick away the sliotar from Tipp sub Pa Bourke -- either before he teed up Ryan or Corbett for the match-winner.

As it happened, Damien Joyce tried desperately but failed to halt Bourke on both occasions. The Tipp sub had only just joined the fray, and who can tell if Canning would have ended up marking him or not.

Yet his uncanny knack for reading danger almost before it happens could well have served Galway when they needed him most.

At times during their roller-coaster summer, Ollie and his colleagues in the Galway full-back line have lived on their nerves. Maybe a player who has always been blessed with rapier speed feels the legs aren't getting there so quickly any more.

Nicky English recalled his own career swansong in 1996: a Munster final against Limerick, defender Stephen McDonagh passing him out in pursuit of a ball ... "and I said it's time to get out of here quickly!"

Here's another theory: perhaps Ollie has grown weary of all these morale-sapping defeats in maroon. On the same radio show, Tom Carr spoke about why players retire when they do and, harking back to his own playing experiences with Dublin, he said that what makes you "tired of it is constantly losing big games".

Pat Spillane may have been flying at 35 but, for the most part, he was accustomed to winning.

Ollie Canning has enjoyed plenty of the latter with Portumna: his draining club schedule could be cited as another reason for bowing out of the county scene now.

But, unlike so many other county men who were good but not blessed with greatness, he has earned the right to pick his own moment of departure.

No matter how hard Marty tries!


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