Sunday 17 December 2017

Comment: Canning delivered so much that he deserves Hurler of the Year award

Joe Canning turns away in delight after hitting the winning point for
Galway against Tipperary. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Joe Canning turns away in delight after hitting the winning point for Galway against Tipperary. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Cyril Farrell

If anyone had a doubt about what last Sunday meant to Galway people, it was made pretty clear in Athenry on Thursday evening.

Weather-wise, it wasn't exactly a golden autumn setting but the dark skies were never going to spoil the fun for the thousands of people who turned up in Kenny Park for something special.

On and off the pitch, it was a mixture of generations as the newly-crowned All-Ireland senior and minor champions, the successful teams of the 1980s and the Galway camogie team came together for a game in memory of Tony Keady.

Tony's family was there and no doubt he was looking down on proceedings and slagging his former team-mates who aren't quite as match-fit as they used to be.

It was a lovely occasion in a week where Galway and its people feel so good about themselves. And why not? We have won only five All-Ireland senior titles so when they do come along, they're special.

Of course, Liam MacCarthy would have been equally treasured if he made the trip to Waterford last Monday but it wasn't to be.

Not this year anyway, but it could be sooner than many expect. There's always a tendency to find fault with beaten All-Ireland finalists but it's very often unfair.

Anyone who feels inclined to have a go at Waterford or Derek McGrath should ask themselves: what about the teams that didn't make it to the final? What did they do wrong?

While Waterford came up short last Sunday, they were close enough to realise how attainable the big breakthrough is.

I expect McGrath to stay on and lead a re-grouping process, which starts from an advanced position.

Only one county can win the All-Ireland every year but it doesn't mean everyone else got it wrong. McGrath and his squad will learn from last Sunday, just as Galway learned from losing the 2012 and 2015 finals.

I have no doubt that experience played a big part in getting them over the line this year.

They have had the jigsaw pieces for some time but this was the season they finally all fitted together. Switching Gearoid McInerney to centre-back became the final piece.

His strength and physicality created the first rock on the defensive shore and with Pádraic Mannion and Aidan Harte flanking him, the balance was right.

Indeed, the same went for all of Galway's outfield lines. With Daithi Burke, McInerney, David Burke, Johnny Coen, Joe Canning and Conor Cooney providing a solid central anchor, Galway were ready for anything.

Expectations

This brings me to Canning, who I strongly contend should win the Hurler of the Year award.

It's selected by players from all the counties and I would expect he will get enough support to land an award that nobody thought he would have to wait so long for when he first came on to the senior team nine years ago.

The problem for Canning is that expectations are so high that he's judged by different standards to other players. So let's dispense with that and look at this season as if it were his first.

He has shown great leadership all year, including last Sunday when he made an early statement by popping over the first point inside 20 seconds. It wasn't an easy finish but he nailed it, setting the tone for Galway.

He did a lot of neat things later on in open play too while his accuracy from frees ensured that every Waterford foul within 100 metres of their goal was punished.

And then there was his point from a line ball, which came just after Galway had conceded a soft goal that brought Waterford level.

Pointing line balls is still a very difficult thing to do but we've come to expect that Canning will score most of them. That was a pressure score and he delivered in style.

He won the semi-final with that wonderful late point, having scored all of Galway's five closing points.

Throughout the year, his leadership was obvious so when the whole package is put together, I'm convinced he should win the top individual award.

I have to admit that if I were told Galway would not score any more goals after the Dublin game in May, I wouldn't have fancied their All-Ireland chances.

In fairness to them, they more than compensated by striking a huge number of points, many of which were of the highest quality.

Their accuracy under pressure was remarkable last Sunday, underlining the remarkable skill levels they possess.

Sincere

Waterford hit some brilliant scores too - indeed you would have to say that the standard of point-taking throughout this year's championship was incredibly high.

And so, at the end of a fantastic season, the league, Leinster and All-Ireland titles are in Galway. It's no more than a great group of players deserve - so too with manager Micheál Donoghue and his selectors Francis Forde and Noel Larkin.

They are honest and sincere hurling men who go about their business quietly and efficiently and they have got their just rewards.

Of course they - and the players - will know that when a title is won, plans to retain it loom on the horizon quite quickly. It's a challenge they will all relish.

Credit too to minor manager Jeffrey Lynskey and his selectors for presiding over the minor success. It crowned some day and some year for Galway.

Irish Independent

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