Canning ready to hit ground running
A LEAN-LOOKING Joe Canning surveys the landscape ahead of another season.
A rare winter off has served him and Galway well. They are, he believes, physically ahead of where they were this time last year.
A week under the Dubai sun did nothing to impinge the work done last year that saw the Galway players take on a visibly better physique.
"We're back training and training hard," said Canning. "As everyone knows, the physical aspect of it was up last year and it is the same this year.
"It's kind of in the bank from last year. We are in a better position now than this time last season. It might be a bit easier to top up the fitness, but it's the same for every county."
Eight new faces, including former captain Shane Kavanagh, means there should be no shortage of freshness in the panel, but there are, Canning agreed, other concerns as Galway look to come to terms with their new title as 'best of the rest' behind Kilkenny.
Since securing back-to-back All-Ireland wins in 1987 and '88, they haven't covered themselves in glory in the years after appearing in a final.
In '89, they lost in the All-Ireland semi-final to Tipp. Two years later, they fell to the same opposition by 10 points. Offaly had six points to spare in 1994.
Fast-forward to 2002 when the championship format had changed, but the results didn't. Galway were dropped into the race for Liam MacCarthy in the first round of the qualifiers and enjoyed wins over Down and Cork before Clare trumped them at the last-eight stage.
The quarter-finals were as good as it got once more for the Tribesmen in 2006 after coming through exhaustive qualifying groups.
Twelve months ago, after a massive clearout of personnel, Galway were thought to be building for further down the line. However, their subsequent annexing of the Leinster title and gutsy displays in the All-Ireland final and replay means their cover is blown ahead of their competitive seasonal re-appearance on Sunday week in the Walsh Cup against the winners of the game between Carlow and Antrim.
"It's a dangerous thing for us," Canning said.
"The expectation with the Galway supporters will be greater and even with the larger public, it will be greater. That's a challenge that lies ahead for us, I suppose. We must not dwell on that too much and just carry on and try to win games."
The first real test of their credentials will come in the league opener when Kilkenny visit Pearse Stadium on February 24, a fixture Galway lost by 25 points in Nowlan Park last year.
A strong league campaign this time around is critical. As Leinster champions, Galway won't enter the provincial competition until the semi-final stage on June 15/16, meaning they could face a gap of 11 weeks from their last scheduled league game.
"It's huge. We found that last year with the (relegation) replay against Dublin, which helped us in a way. We had an extra match to play and it helped me anyway, because I missed all of the league. It'll be good for us.
"We've Kilkenny at home in the first game and that's huge and then Clare, who have a lot of work done already this year.
"It's a tough start for us and we'll need to hit the ground running if we are to progress to the latter stages of the league."