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Tribes' bid helps Canning clear Portumna hangover

PROOF, if proof were needed, that Joe Canning is over his St Patrick's Day disappointment came on May 2 in Thurles as Galway gave the most concrete suggestion yet that they are a real-life, genuine championship contender this year.

Their 2-22 to 1-17 defeat of Cork in the National League final was widely heralded as the first real day of summer in hurling terms and Canning's personal haul of 1-5 represented the first time he had done what he is now expected to do in a Galway jersey this year.

The hurling hangover which Canning and the Portumna set in John McIntyre's squad experienced post-St Patrick's Day was understandable.

Vying for their third All-Ireland club title in succession and the unanimous acceptance from the wider hurling fraternity of being the best club team ever, Ballyhale executed the perfect ambush and few Portumna players can claim to have done themselves justice that day. Except, of course, Canning.

"It's nice to get your mind off things and go on and do something different again with Galway," he said in reference to his league final performance.

"It's nice to win the league. But at the end of the day, that's history. If we don't do well in the championship and get knocked out of Leinster on Saturday, people will forget easily about our league final. That's the challenge."

While Canning's impending return from the club scene has occupied the minds of Galway hurling folk over the past three springs, his arrival this year went without the automatic selection as the team's free taker.

Instead, midfielder, Ger Farragher, has continued in the role but Canning says he has no problems being taken off placed-ball duties.

"It doesn't bother me one bit as long as they're going over," he says.

This Saturday, Canning and Galway dip their toes into the Leinster hurling championship for the second time, having made a less pronounced splash last summer than they had intended.

The proximity of Kilkenny on the other half of the draw this year leaves the potential for the 'dream' provincial final but Canning -- conscious of the fact Galway have never beaten Wexford in championship hurling -- is cautious.

"They've a very strong team. They have a national title won already as well," he points out, in reference to Wexford's NHL Division 2 crown. "We're not under any illusions going down.

"It's going to be tough. They have hurlers there that would make most county teams in Ireland. They've got a very strong team."

Canning, whose brother Ollie is expected to start after recovering from an ankle injury, still reckons that Kilkenny and Tipperary are a cut above the rest right now.

Though he knows that the real gauge of progress and how Galway will fare this summer starts on Saturday.

"If you compare the two of them and look at it that way, we could still be a bit behind on the intensity that we need to get up to for championship hurling," Canning notes. "We know we'll have to improve to beat Wexford on Saturday."