Joe Canning has had more time that he’d have liked to digest the conversation around hurling just now.
If he had his way, he’d be busy preparing for games and recovering from them. But, following the theme of the past couple of seasons, it’s been a stop-start campaign for him to date.
Since 2019, minutes on the pitch have been more scarce than he’d like, and inevitably some of the noise around hurling and the direction it’s heading in, has seeped in.
It’s fair to say he’s a little baffled by some of the language. Descriptions of ‘free-taking competitions’ and games lacking physicality are not the encounters he feels he is playing in.
“I think it is in a good place,” he says of hurling as Bord Gáis Energy launched GAAGAABox.
“There has been a lot in the last couple of weeks about there being so many frees but then there has been nothing reported in the last two weeks. We played against Waterford, I scored four frees and I think we had six or seven frees that Evan (Niland) scored (on Sunday). So that’s 11 in two games and I’ve heard nothing about the low amount of frees. But when there’s high (number of) frees there’s negativity.
“I don’t know if its Covid or what but people love to give out a bit more in the last couple of months and they are looking for the negative moreso than anything and it’s guys from back in the 1980s and ’90s that’s being interviewed and I don’t know if they are up to speed either with today’s game.
“I even heard there about the high scoring, there was something last week from a guy who played in the 2014 All-Ireland final which is considered one of the best matches ever, the drawn game, which was 3-22 to 1-28 and no one gave out about the score of that. But people are giving out that we are getting 30 points now but that game was 31 points a piece.
“So I just think there’s too much negativity and everyone has an opinion and it’s going now with somebody influential saying something and we all just jump on that. Like, try and look at the positives, what’s wrong with high scores?”
The idea that the game has lost its physical edge bemuses him – he has the bruised ribs from Galway’s clash with Waterford a fortnight ago to prove it.
And he pointed to former team-mate James Skehill’s exercise, where he weighed sliotars from different manufacturers and eras and found they were largely in line with each other, to show why at least some of the commentary around the reason for the number of scores in hurling is wide of the mark.
Canning’s argument is that the game has simply evolved. Players are bigger, stronger, faster, better coached and more tactically aware of than ever before. Those developments are, he insists, bound to have an effect on the game.
“I think the skill levels are way better, yeah. I was only watching games over lockdown back in the early 2000s, and saw people just getting the ball and driving it down the field and not worrying about it.
“It’s become a more possession-based game, and the skills of the game are now more important. Your first touch is better, it’s very rare now you see a guy going down to get a ball and his touch is off, it’s one touch into the hand. So obviously the skills are way better now than what they were. The speed, the strength, everything like that.”
Along with his rib injury, Canning is carrying a thumb problem that saw him sit out last weekend’s clash with Cork. However, he insists he’ll be ready for the Tribesmen’s championship opener on July 3 against either Antrim or Dublin.
“I am feeling fine. I suppose haven’t really played too much in the last probably year or two years when you actually look back on it.
“Like, only last year, what did we play in the league, four games or whatever it was? The year before that, 2019, didn’t really play a whole pile, 20 minutes championship.
“So yeah, the last few years, not really a whole pile, so I am not too bad actually at the moment.”