Joe Canning: ‘I don’t think I’ve moved on as a hurler since 2010’
The perfectionist in Joe Canning is perhaps most noticeable on the production line of the family's hurley-making business. For the next few months, as he awaits the commencement of his final year of a marketing degree at LIT, Canning will take turns at the various tasks that make and shape a stick in their Portumna facility.
Sanding, cutting out, planing, whatever care it takes to produce a quality, handmade hurl will be overseen with some tough scrutiny.
For Joe a good hurl requires the right balance. And, until he strikes that balance, he won't rest easy.
He delicately crafts his own weapons. "I wouldn't like any spring in the hurl. I wouldn't like a heavy hurl. Everybody wants a different weight, a different balance. By hand-making them, they are a lot better," he says. "I'd be finicky enough, as the boys will tell you in the sheds. I go through a good few of them before I get the right one."
Those same high standards are reflected in his appraisal of where he thinks his game is as he embarks on a fifth championship campaign with Galway.
The fanfare and pomp that for so long signalled his coming as an inter-county hurler have well and truly dimmed now. The idea that Galway would flourish in his presence has yet to be backed up with cold, hard results.
For all the magical touches, for all the goals and big scores he has racked up, Galway have still to reach an All-Ireland semi-final on his watch. He doesn't baulk from quoting that simple fact himself.
At the end of a 2010 season that fuelled so much hope -- ending with a one-point defeat to Tipperary in a gripping All-Ireland quarter-final -- Canning displayed some remarkable honesty as he focused on his own personal contribution.
It hadn't been good enough. Not near the standards he had set for himself with back-to-back displays against Cork in qualifiers that had earned him a quick brace of All Stars in his first two seasons. "I had a very bad year, to be honest about it. I'll be straight up. I didn't perform at all this year," he said at the time.
It seemed harsh for a player who was still only 21, but then Joe is judged by different standards than most other hurlers.
Yet the theme is much the same as Galway move into the championship's fast lane tomorrow to take on Offaly, a county that has traditionally never stood back from them.
"I don't think I've moved on any bit as a hurler since 2010. I wouldn't use injuries as an excuse. My form hasn't been up to scratch. I'm working on it the whole time. Hopefully, it will get better, but all I can do is get better and try to improve the whole time," he admits.
Injuries have been an issue, however. Last year, a soreness in his heel precluded him from hurling in the league.
This year, free of both injury and obligations to Portumna for the first time in his Galway career, he was able to commit to a full pre-season and the benefits were to be seen in a much more chiselled and toned look to his features.
But then dislocation to the A/C joint left him idle and frustrated for the group stages of the league once more.
Only the unthinkable prospect of relegation lured him back a little ahead of schedule for the two play-off games against Dublin.
"It was a small bit before I was fully ready," he says. "I was lucky I didn't get any hard knock that time. It was important for confidence, for morale within the squad.
"No team wants to get relegated from any division and (when) we found ourselves in that situation, we had to dig ourselves out of it. Having said that, Dublin were missing six or seven first-team players."
Consistency is something he feels he needs to bring to his game in the months ahead. "You wonder how the likes of Henry Shefflin and these guys can perform to such standards every time they go out. You want to try and be like them, but it just doesn't happen."
As much as he sharpens the blade to analyse his own performance however, Canning gets frustrated with the level of expectation that always surrounds the Galway hurling team.
"To be honest it's way too high," he says. "It's funny how so much (senior) success is expected on the back of underage success. It doesn't work like that.
"Galway seniors haven't got to a semi-final since 2005. I find it funny when people ask me are we going to win the All-Ireland this year.
"To be honest, I'd be happy enough if we got by a quarter-final because that's a step in the right direction," he says.
"Obviously, there are games to get to that point first. You have to take every game as it comes, but it's crazy people talking about All-Irelands when we haven't even got to a semi-final in seven years."
The appeal for more patience and time is a familiar chime, but pragmatic, nonetheless, given the profile of a squad laced with so many of last year's U-21 panel.
"It's very easy to jump on the bandwagon when we are going well and then jump off it quickly when we are going bad," says Canning.
"We need time as a team to get together and form a good bond. People have to realise that. These things don't work overnight.
"It took Liam Sheedy three years to win the All-Ireland with Tipp. It takes time and patience. Hopefully, we might get time and patience over these next couple of years.
"It takes time no matter what to get to know guys -- you will always have different personalities, you will have shy guys and outspoken guys -- to get that mix going and get that team mentality going into the camp."
Joe Canning is a Bord Gais Energy GAA Hurling U-21 Breaking Through Player of the Year judge. See breakingthrough.ie for Joe's U-21 hurling predictions, exclusive videos and up-to- date championship news.