Galway star Joe Canning was 'a centimetre-and-a-half' away from career-ending injury
Joe Canning tells a story about the aftermath of last year's Leinster final in which Kilkenny had just worn down his Galway side.
The game had been largely similar to the previous September's All-Ireland final in that the Tribesmen's challenge faded down the home stretch and, having ousted Anthony Cunningham over the winter, the brickbats were flying in their direction.
So Canning was low that week. And to make matters worse, his eight-year-old nephew was out in the garden, mimicking his hero - Kilkenny's TJ Reid.
"It was the Tuesday after the Leinster final," he recalled.
"We were after getting a bit of a hammering in the press as well. Jody was out the front, pretending to take a free. And he was looking back at me to see was I looking. Then he roared out, 'TJ Reid, TJ Reid, TJ Reid…' That brought me down to earth."
Things would get better from there. Galway would recover to beat Clare before going toe-to-toe with would be All-Ireland champions Tipperary in the last four.
They led at half-time in that game and were right in the fight until a late brace of goals saw Tipp over the line. Lady Luck abandoned Galway that day as both after Adrian Tuohy and Canning had been forced off with injury at the interval.
Galway's season ended there and, as it turned out, Canning's injury had the potential to end his career. Next Tuesday marks five months since his surgery on a hamstring, though at the time, he had no idea it was so serious.
"To be honest, (I thought) I'd just pulled a muscle. I didn't realise … I never even heard of this kind of an injury before. So it never came into my head at the time.
"I ripped the tendon basically. The muscle is fine. The tendon attaches the muscle to the bone in your arse basically. I've a centimetre-and-a-half left on the bone and it (tore) down four centimetres, so it's just surgery to reattach that.
"But if it came off the bone, it usually brings a bit of the bone with it. So Paul O'Connell, let's say for instance, would have brought some of the bone and that never really heals. So you'd see a lot of rugby guys now retiring from it - it seems to be the one thing, the hamstring/tendon injury."
Galway acted quickly and got him under the knife in Cork the week after the Tipp game. March has been pencilled in for a comeback but the operation had only been carried out a handful of times in the country so Canning will be taking no chances with his recovery.
"I can't really put a date on it. I'm taking it week on week. Some days I'm good and some days I might have a pain somewhere else … like it's five months that I haven't been training.
"I'm pretty much not too bad fitness-wise, it's just the hurling side of things. I'm running in straight lines and everything. No (I'm not sprinting), not fully. The specialist said it's a seven- to eight-month thing but I'm well ahead and I'll see in the next few weeks how I feel."
The Portumna man had no intention of going to last year's All-Ireland final but a ticket fell in his lap and off he hobbled.
There was both comfort and regret in watching Tipp burn Kilkenny off to secure Liam MacCarthy.
It was another reminder that Galway are not too far away. But then again, nobody in the Galway camp needed any reassurance on that count.
"It seems to be the story for the last few years. It's been that close, but I suppose it's better to be nearly there than be very far away, in a way.
"It was tough, watching it. I wasn't going to come (to the final) but then I got a ticket the day before the match. I was still in the brace and on crutches after surgery.
"To be straight up about it, it's not the best feeling looking at an All-Ireland when you lose a semi-final, and with a bit of luck you could be there.
"You'd be kind of half-sickened, to be straight up. There's no point in saying any other way. You become very selfish in those kind of situations and you're kind of going, 'F*** it, like, we could have been there, that could be us'.
"But still, if we got to the final, you don't know what could have been the result. Kilkenny could have beaten us."
Canning was in Croke Park yesterday to mark the announcement of Bord Gáis Energy's sponsorship of the hurling championship for the next three years.
When the company started its association with the U-21 championship back in 2009, they signed Canning, Seamus Callanan, Liam Rushe, Patrick Horgan and Paul Murphy up as fresh-faced ambassadors.
Eight years on, all five were back to mark their progression to sponsoring the senior championship and Canning admits that back then he didn't think that, at 28, he'd still be chasing his first All-Ireland.
"I don't know if it's just naivety or something like that. When you are younger you think you can (win) and you have a chance. You think you have a chance every year to win an All Ireland.
"We've had a couple of shots at it and it hasn't worked out but you are always thinking you are good enough, because you wouldn't be doing it if you didn't think deep down that you were good enough. I thought I might have one anyway."
They've been close. And while injury might mean there'll be a slow start to 2017, there'll be no let-up in the pursuit of glory.
"It's just frustration, I suppose. You'd like to be a part of winning. You see other guys winning so many - Kilkenny winning ten, 12, in the last number of years, and you're kind of going, 'Jesus, if I only got one I'd be happy enough'."
Canning unsure of of Munster switch
Galway hurling star Joe Canning "doesn't see the benefit" of the Tribesmen switching to the Munster Championship.
With Galway hurling officials increasingly unhappy with their arrangement that sees them compete in the Leinster Championship, they have put the wheels in motion for a possible switch south.
However, Canning is unsure as to whether the move would help Galway and instead wants to see the county's underage side handed more meaningful competition.
"I don't see the benefit of going into Munster, What are we going to do? Munster mightn't let us play home games either.
"It's the underage thing, that the minors and U-21s get more matches. They're missing out on development."
"Some counties have just one game a year while other counties have four or five games throughout the year developing.
"Wexford, the last three or so years, have won three Leinster titles. They have a serious crew coming through that have played seriously competitive matches," added Canning.
"Whereas all of our guys at 22, 23, have probably played three games over the last three years."