Thursday 19 April 2018

'Troubleshooter' Joe Canning revelling in his new role

Joe Canning celebrates after scoring Galway’s second goal against Clare. Picture Credit: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Joe Canning celebrates after scoring Galway’s second goal against Clare. Picture Credit: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

On the way back out after making the angle for himself and striking with such ferocity to score Galway's second goal just 10 seconds into the second half of Sunday's second All-Ireland hurling quarter-final, Joe Canning found himself on the shoulder of Clare midfielder David Reidy.

Reidy is a tough operator but also one of Clare's smallest players. Canning didn't resist the temptation to crash into his opponent's shoulder with his considerably bigger frame. Not once but twice did they collide like a pair of dodgem cars.

Canning had his goal scored and it was a timely reminder to Reidy and his Clare colleagues that they had their measure in the physical stakes too.

In his duels with first Brendan Bugler and then David Fitzgerald, Canning hadn't yielded an inch either and in some ways that was a metaphor for Galway's approach.

Read More: Galway blaze back into title contention

Canning has had more eye-catching performances in his nine-year Galway senior career. That evening in his debut year against Cork, the following year against Kilkenny in Tullamore, the Leinster final and first half of the All-Ireland against Kilkenny in 2012, all the little touches of magic he has produced.

Galway's Joe Canning with supporters after the team’s victory over Clare. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Galway's Joe Canning with supporters after the team’s victory over Clare. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Yet for putting himself about, he has had few, if any, days like this.

From the moment he joined forces with Johnny Coen for the throw-in it was evident that he was going to be the team's trouble-shooter, playing wherever his team's greatest needs were.

Early on he was on hand with David Burke to put the pressure on Cian Dillon for Joseph Cooney's opening score, and that set the tone.

There were shades of the way Michael Murphy has sacrificed the more refined elements of his game for the greater good of Donegal football as Canning had spells at half-forward, full-forward, back out to midfield, in behind midfield and eventually as the last line of defence for those vital few minutes.

Maybe it was the caustic words of Ger Loughnane that stirred him in the aftermath of the Leinster final.

Much more likely though was an overwhelming desire to set the record straight, a sentiment felt by all the Galway players.

"The criticism that was thrown at us?" reflected midfielder Burke afterwards. "I suppose we are our own biggest critics, myself included.

"All I tried to do since the Leinster final is tell lads how good they are. They're really good players, a really good team and no one else matters, just to do it for themselves and their families. That's all we're doing at the end of the day. It's amateur game, amateur sport. We're doing it for the joy."

Canning's contribution wasn't lost on Burke.

"He has put in serious performances since he came in with Galway. He's adding things to his game that no one sees. Everyone expects him to score 2-8 from play," he said.

"He's doing things for the team, he's bringing more players into the game, he's coming out. When I went in centre-forward he went out midfield - he's able to play out there as well.

"He can hurl anywhere on the field if he wants to. He can play one to 15. I know the argument is he's our best forward and you're better playing him near the goals. All we needed from him was to win hard ball around midfield."

Goalkeeper Colm Callanan appreciated Canning's work-rate and acknowledged the different kind of influence he exerted.

"He's at the edge of the square on one side of it and then he's taking balls down my side of the square in the last few minutes. That's a man that really stood up. Hugely influential. I'm just glad he's on my side," he said.

Burke said Galway have had to accept the criticism and understand the frustration of their own people at a performance like the last quarter against Kilkenny but he pointed out that Cork and Galway are the two teams that have taken down the Cats most in championship hurling in the Brian Cody era.

"You can look at it in two ways. They (the fans) are frustrated looking at us. We're a serious team. They're saying 'why can't these lads put in better performances?'," he said.

"Kilkenny are a serious team, the benchmark, the last whatever amount of years they've been there."

There were other elements that came together: Coen's selection at midfield and the use of Aidan Harte as the spare man when Clare withdrew an attacker.

"We don't play a sweeper system," said Callanan. "But when you are faced with that, you are going to end up with one no matter - here is no way out of that. It is not our style but it worked out well.

"With Johnny's move people wouldn't have been maybe anticipating that one too much, but we knew against Clare we were going to end up with a spare man back, and Michéal (Donoghue) obviously thought, deploy Johnny further out the field and make better use of him out there."

Irish Independent

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