Joe Canning on Donal Og's impact at Clare, relegation, work life and Connacht rugby
Joe Canning believes Clare will become the latest county to come up from Division 1B and lift the Allianz League title next Sunday when they take on a Waterford side who it last year having been in the lower division.
And with Galway having been relegated this season, Canning is hoping they can bounce right back next spring, but he doesn’t see the drop having any impact on their championship campaign.
The first major hurling trophy of the season will be decided next Sunday and Canning has an inkling that Davy Fitzgerald’s men will triumph.
“Clare have been unbeaten all league and Waterford I think have only lost one throughout the league against Dublin, so both teams are there on merit.
“Both were very impressive in the semi-finals. It is intriguing that they are meeting in the championship a few weeks after that but I don’t think either team will be thinking about championship.
“It should be a good game. Both of them play a kind of similar game but it will be interesting to see if it is a high or a low scoring game because everyone knows how Waterford play after the last few years.”
Canning, who tasted Fitzgibbon Cup glory under Fitzgerald with Limerick IT, feels that the breaks just haven’t gone Clare’s way since winning the All-Ireland title in 2013.
“I think Clare were a bit unlucky in the last couple of years more than anything else. They were only losing games by maybe a point or two. You need to have that bit of luck, but they now also seem to have a pep in their step as well.
“They seem to have players in different positions. Darach Honan (above) seems to be coming out the field a bit more whereas he always seemed to be full-forward or corner-forward.
“They were still without the likes of Tony Kelly for large periods of the league, David McInerney, Shane O’Donnell and a few more who were missing for a lot of the league. They have strength in depth there in their panel. It is great to see Podge Collins back from the cruciate as well.”
Canning was not surprised by Fitzgerald’s decision to bring former Cork goalkeeper Donal Og Cusack on board to boost his management team.
“Davy is always a guy who wants to improve and who wants to get the best people around him and he doesn’t really care who he gets as long as it is good for the team. Obviously a lot of people were a bit surprised but listening to Donal Og on the television for the past few years, and knowing him, he is a great asset to have in your backroom team. Davy is a great manager and a great coach and I certainly learned a lot off him from my days with him in Limerick IT.”
Canning reckons Waterford will be a force in the championship and that they are bringing through some serious young talent.
“You have to give Waterford a little bit of time. They won the league last year for the first time in many years. Change can be slow. They lost the Munster final to Tipperary but came so close to beating Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final. I suppose it is going to be a little bit trickier for them this season because everybody knows how they play now and have got a bit more used to it.
“They are racking up big scores, a lot of the media are saying they are not scoring goals but it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you are winning games. And that’s what they are doing consistently. They are going to be there or thereabouts come the end of the year.
“They have a lot of young guys coming, Shane Bennett (above) is a great hurler and he’s only 19, Austin Gleeson as well, mixing in with the older guys like Kevin Moran and Brick Walsh. Patrick Curran coming in this year adds another.
“I don’t think it will be a high-scoring game given the amount of players both teams put back when they are defending.
“It will probably come down to very fine margins, a mistake or a call by the referee or something like that.
“Looking at it Clare, just on the performance against Kilkenny throughout the 70 minutes they probably look to be that bit more ahead at this stage. It took Waterford a while to shake off Limerick so just going on the semi-finals I’ll probably go for Clare by a point or two.
“But I don’t think it will have a big bearing the championship meeting a few weeks later.”
Championship is all that is on Canning’s mind at the moment and he has embarked on a career change to facilitate his hurling.
He stepped down from his role as sponsorship and PR manager with Liberty Insurance and is opening the first Camile Thai restaurant outside Dublin, with the business set to open in Limerick in early June.
Camile was launched in Dublin in 2010 by Brody Sweeney, the founder of the O'Brien’s Sandwich Bar chain, and Canning, along with two business partners, will operate the company’s 11th restaurant in the Parkway Retail Park in Limerick.
“I was based in Dublin for two years with Liberty and was travelling up and down all the time for training, two or three times a week and then at the weekend. It was the travelling more so than anything that prompted me make the change.
“I enjoyed my job no end and Liberty were very good to me but just the travelling up and down took its toll. It was a case of sitting in a car for two hours to travel down, then two hours training, and then two hours again the car going back to Dublin. It was a case of picking up niggly little injuries, maybe from sitting down so much I suppose, especially having an office job as well.
“It was always a dream to get into the hospitality and restaurant business so when the opportunity came up with Camile Thai it was a thing that I just jumped at and it is a thing I am really looking forward to trying to succeed at.
“It’s not just an investment, I will be working there but it won’t be full-time as I have other things as well but I will be there a good bit of the time during the week, during the daytime more so than anything as I will be training in the evening with Galway as we are getting into the summer.
“But it’s like anything, when I get into something I want to get stuck in and make it a success,” said Canning, who spent five years in Limerick IT where he graduated with a degree in business and marketing.
He said that the change of management over the winter meant they were later than other counties preparing for 2016 but he is determined to look forward rather than back at the controversy which surrounded Anthony Cunningham’s removal as manager following the All-Ireland final defeat to Kilkenny.
“We are just concentrating now on what we can do in the future. Training has been going well, we started a lot later than most other counties and we are probably two to three months behind other counties back training. But it’s going well, championship is the big thing for us, the same as everyone else, it was disappointing alright how the league finished but at the same time we were happy enough with some aspects of it.
“We tried out a lot of new guys, we had a lot of injuries throughout the league. Towards the later stages of the league we were missing about seven of the main backs who have been in the championship over the last few years. It was an opportunity for a lot of new guys to get their chance and get inter-county experience I suppose but it was disappointing to finish the way it did but on other days we could have beaten Tipperary, could have beaten Waterford and ended up on six points. You don’t know what way the league could have ended up then. It was disappointing to finish with four points and then be relegated for next season but we can’t worry about it now, that’s for next season.
“We weren’t too far off last year. We were a couple of points up at half-time and I suppose our game management in the second-half was good enough. It was just frustrating on that point of view that we were so close and just didn’t get over the finish line.
“But, then again, last year Dublin should probably have beaten us in the first match in Croke Park. We didn’t perform in the Leinster final, the game against Tipperary could have gone either way, it was that nip and tuck and other years we just didn’t have the luck I suppose to get over the line. We just got it against Tipperary in the semi-final.
“So we were lucky in a way last year as well, getting to the All-Ireland the way we did. It is all so tight, there are such fine margins at this level now that when you win people tend to forget the things you did bad.
“If you look at the whole thing of last year, it was an up and down kind of year. Some days we were good, some days we were bad and other days we were just lucky, so we need to be more consistent, I suppose. That’s the big thing for us.
“For the last number of years our consistency hasn’t been good enough but we have improved. We have a young enough team, I’m one of the oldest on it now at 27 so a lot of the guys are very young, 22 or 23 years of age, they have got good experience over the last number of years so hopefully this year will be good for them as well.”
Canning has a big interest in most sports and flirted with a rugby career before concentrating on hurling and he has been inspired by what his Portumna neighbor John Muldoon (above) and his Connacht men have been achieving this year.
“I go in as much as I can to be honest into the Sportsground. I bring in the nephews and stuff like that. They are all interested as well in what’s happening in there. A lot of the Portumna guys go in and support Johnny and the rest of them. We get in as much as we can.
“It’s brilliant what’s happening there at the moment, it’s not one of these things that people haven’t been seeing over the last two or three years since Pat Lam has arrived. They have been very unlucky, last year at different stages. It’s something that’s been done over the last two or three years. The culture has changed a little bit with them.
“It’s great for Galway, it’s great for Connacht and it’s really puts people on the map a bit more. It makes us want to do better and see what they’re achieving and it drives us on a small bit more,” added Canning.