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'Hard work' the secret to Canning's stamp of genius: Larkin

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Galway manager Micheál Donoghue (l) with Noel Larkin

Galway manager Micheál Donoghue (l) with Noel Larkin

Galway manager Micheál Donoghue (l) with Noel Larkin

They say you can't teach genius ... but Galway selector Noel Larkin has a different take on what makes Joe Canning so special.

"It's no big secret," he says. "It's just hard work."

Larkin is well placed to assess Galway's perennial talisman as he prepares for one more tilt at Liam MacCarthy, against Waterford on Sunday. Prior to joining Micheál Donoghue's set-up, he was part of the management team that led Portumna back to the All-Ireland summit in 2014.

"This is my fifth year working with him, including three years with the club," the Meelick Eyrecourt man explains. "It could be March and he'd be in with Galway and you'd have to stop him training with the club, tell him to sit down and relax - which he doesn't do very well.

"He always has a hurl and a ball in his hand, and he's hitting against the wall every day, even for ten minutes. That makes an unbelievable difference. No more than Ollie (Canning), I was very lucky to work with him as well, and it's just hard work."

At times during his spell coaching Portumna, Larkin would even feel compelled to go "Joe, sit down".

"Andy Smith and Damien Hayes with him, the three would come training when they were on the Galway panel and they were mad for road. They'd do the warm-up and, next thing, you'd turn around and they are standing in line to do a drill.

"They could have trained with the county that morning. The hunger for the game is unbelievable."

Yet if hard work was the only arbiter, lots of hurlers could have nailed that wonder point to topple Tipperary at the semi-final death.

"I've seen him do some special things over the last few years," says Larkin. "He got that goal in the 2015 Leinster final when he turned and swivelled. Special players do that."

The flip side is that, when Galway lose, Canning is often the fall guy. "He has been in the public eye since he made his debut under Ger Loughnane and he scored 2-11 or 2-12, something ridiculous, and Galway still lost," says Larkin, harking back to then-teenager's outrageous haul against Cork in 2008. "He gets a lot of unwarranted, unfair criticism."

But maybe less so now that Galway are no longer perceived as a one-man forward line.

"You've seen in the last couple of years, there is a different spread of scorers," Larkin highlights. "If Joe has a game that's quiet by his standards, it's no big drama any more. Conor Cooney is pitching in, or Conor Whelan or Johnny Coen.

Esteem

"It's just the high esteem he's held in: if he's not shooting the lights out, everyone thinks he hasn't had a good game.

"In some of his best games for the club when I was there, he'd be midfield and he mightn't score from play but he'd have 20 or 30 possessions."

He adds: "If Joe was in Croke Park on his own, he's not going to win a game. There are 14 other guys there doing their bit and it's definitely a team effort this year that's got us over the line.

"For Joe's point the last day, the build-up play was very good. No one sees Pádraic Mannion and the ball he flicked back to Johnny Coen. Johnny Coen takes it on and turns around and gives it to Joe.

"Joe took the free from 100 yards out and seconds later he pops up 50 yards away on the sideline - thank God! It's the work-rate and not just expecting things to happen."

Against Tipp, a blow-burning Canning showed his worth when it was needed most, scoring Galway's last five points.

"Great players do that," says Larkin. "Séamie Callanan last year, nine points from play - that was one of the great All-Ireland final performances.

"Listen, he (Canning) was probably a little bit quiet in the first half but people forget he was three weeks out with a knee injury. He wasn't doing a whole pile of training; his training was tapered. We're glad he hit a purple patch in the last 20 minutes. Hopefully he'll have another."


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