'For a reporter to know something before I actually knew myself was a bit strange' - Joe Canning on 'fake news'
Galway star fully fit again but 'fake news' of injury left sour taste
This time of year, there's only one situation that could satisfy him - in its absence Joe Canning looks in on games with the enthusiasm of a man in a dentist's waiting room.
"Yeah, I'm not enjoying it at all," he admits. "There's no point saying otherwise. If you're not involved at the end of the year contesting finals, no matter what sport, you'll be down about it."
He has reasons to be grateful - the career-threatening groin injury is finally in his rear-view mirror - but he still has reasons to feel aggrieved. Typically, the 30-year-old is a calm, composed talker, but these days a room full of journalists is a sure-fire way to scratch an old sore.
It goes back to that injury in March, the one that cast him into a chaotic labyrinth and forced him to race his way out, to find his health in time for high summer. As Canning bore down on goal against Waterford in that league quarter-final, a shoulder from Kevin Moran sent him crashing to the ground, Canning's left leg over-stretched in the resulting impact.
He knew that evening it was bad. "You can't walk, really. I had no power in my leg, even to just lift it," he says. "A piece of the pubic bone came off, and that was basically it."
Galway manager Micheál Donoghue told reporters that day it was a groin injury, but in the days after a story circulated that his injury was just a dead leg, which rankled Canning. Still does.
"I didn't even know [the diagnosis] for a week. I obviously had to get scans and medical advice. For a reporter to know something before I actually knew myself was a bit strange."
People weren't long asking him and his family why he'd been stretchered off for a mere dead leg, but rumours that Galway exaggerated his injury were soon greatly in demise, Canning told he would likely require surgery and 14 to 16 weeks out.
Just two days before that Waterford game, the five-time All-Star had retweeted a video in which actor Denzel Washington railed against the spread of fake news and four months on, it's still fresh in Canning's mind.
"He said that if you read the news you're misinformed and if you don't you're uninformed, that it's all about being first. It doesn't matter if it's true or not, but if you're first everybody believes it. What kind of got to me was that it wasn't true."
Speculation was inevitable given Galway's initial reticence about the extent of Canning's injury, but he believes players should have a right to protect their medical privacy.
"It's freedom of choice, isn't it? Like, are we public property? Some people may say yes and some people may say no. We did say it was a groin injury straight after the game so until we knew exactly what it was, why would we comment and say it was something when it could have been something else?"
Canning surpassed every time-line he was given on his road to recovery, returning to full training after just 10 weeks, something he's made a habit of doing in recent years having come back from knee and hamstring surgeries well ahead of the time.
The injury was severe enough that he heard whispers that it might be the end of him, a frequency he has learned to tune out.
"People who didn't know too much about it, the same people that reported I had a dead leg," he says. "I like to try and prove people wrong in whatever I do, so there wasn't any stage where I thought, 'I'll never play again.'"
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He was re-introduced in the 47th minute of Galway's loss to Dublin in Parnell Park, which turned out to be their last game of the championship after a draw between Kilkenny and Wexford sealed their summer in mid-June. Has there been any post-mortem since?
"Not if you [count] talk about it on the few days on the beer after it, no," he laughs. "Lads were just let back to their clubs. We'll probably go back training in November like everybody else and I think that'll be time enough for it."
It was an awful lot of work for what was, for Canning, a 25-minute summer, and the frustration still lingers. But was there anything he believes Galway did wrong?
"No, I don't think so. The Wexford game would've been the one that we were in a good position but just didn't close it out. I heard more people say we should have beat Carlow [by] more, but we won the game, what more do you want us to do? Playing Dublin at Parnell Park is always a tough place to go, and obviously losing that is hard to take. But four teams landing on five points each - that might never happen again."
He kept an eye on things in Croke Park last weekend and can't say he's surprised to see Tipp and Kilkenny back in the final. "Two teams that are very hard to beat down through the years, they're there on merit," he says.
Canning still can't get his head around the decision to condense the championship to its current constraints, believing that it's not having the desired effect.
"It's not helping the club scene. We played more club matches in the old system, during the summer, than we did in the new system," he says. "I'd play the club championships early on in the year, maybe February to May, and then have the inter-county championship until the end of September. Even from a marketing perspective, if you want kids to play sport, have it as much of the year as you can."
He'll be back in action for Portumna the weekend of the All-Ireland final and, while their lack of championship duty the last six weeks has brought some advantages for him and other Tribesmen, Canning is not one to pretend when asked to put a shine on a summer without silverware. "A good few of the boys went to America and stuff like that, and you get a summer holiday for once," he says. "But you'd swap all of it, wouldn't you?"
Joe Canning was announced yesterday as a judge for the Bord Gáis Energy U-20 Player of the Year Award