Joe Canning keeps feet on ground
Galway star plays down talk of All-Ireland as he prepares to take it one match at a time, writes Liam Kelly
JOE Canning believes that Galway's presence in the Leinster hurling championship is a win-win situation for the county and the game in the eastern province.
Canning and his Tribesmen team- mates are due to start their sixth Leinster campaign on June 1 against the runners-up of the five-team round-robin series, which is already under way. The men in maroon have settled well into Leinster and are surely there for the long haul.
"So far it's good," said Canning. "We get good high-quality matches. I think it's good for the Leinster championship as well to have Galway in it; it's not a case of a win for Galway and a loss for Leinster.
"The Leinster championship is becoming more exciting and with Antrim and Galway there, that adds to it. It's only good for hurling to have a competition competing with the Munster championship."
How fascinating now to look back and reflect on the move that nearly didn't happen, with a rake of vested interests opposed to the arrival of Galway – and Antrim – into the Leinster championship.
The impetus for change took on a big momentum in autumn 2008. Galway's panel, then managed by John McIntyre, were unanimously in favour. Officialdom, at some levels, took a lot more convincing. Galway's County Board conducted a secret ballot and the motion for change was carried by just 12 votes, 66-54.
Prior to the Special Congress in October 2008, Dublin, Offaly, Westmeath and Wexford indicated they were opposed to the move, but at the Special Congress, Galway and Antrim were accepted into Leinster for an initial three-year trial term.
Any fears that Galway's presence in some way would be detrimental to Leinster were proven groundless. Similarly, those who thought it might be a springboard for an era of Galway dominance at provincial and national level were mistaken.
Since 2009, the Tribesmen have reached three Leinster semi-finals, and two finals, winning the Bob O'Keeffe Cup once in 2012.
Their All-Ireland campaigns have been derailed at the quarter-final stage on four occasions, bar 2012 when they reached the All-Ireland final and lost to Kilkenny after a replay. No world domination, then, and still the hunt continues for a breakthrough that can bring the Liam MacCarthy Cup back across the Shannon for the first time since 1988.
Canning was born a few weeks after that triumph in which current Galway manager Anthony Cunningham featured. The 25-year-old Portumna star has won many individual awards and some notable team honours, but the Big One has eluded him so far.
He has enjoyed success in minor All-Irelands (two) and an U-21 title, plus four All-Irelands with his club, which represents a pretty impressive haul at national level. Canning also played an important role for the Galway seniors in that history-making Leinster title achievement of 2012.
There's no doubt the next level remains an ambition and a dream for Galway players as well as supporters which is fine in theory, but the immediate goal is to win one game.
"Supporters will talk about stuff like that, but we're just concentrating on the first of June and we're just trying to get our performance ready for that day. If that's good enough, then we're happy enough," he said.
On the topic of All-Irelands, Canning distinguishes between club champions and county accomplishments. In recent years Clarinbridge, St Thomas' and Portumna have won the club All-Ireland. Wonderful as those victories were for the clubs and their supporters, they don't transfer to inter-county hurling.
"There's no relation between a club All-Ireland and the county," he says. "2012 was the first year we (Galway) got past the quarter-final in I don't know how many years. We didn't get past it again last year and that's just the way it goes.
"There's always an expectation, no matter what. It doesn't matter what county you play with, your supporters always want to see you win. We're the same as anybody else. We feel the pressure as well as every other county. We're just looking forward to the year and, hopefully, things will go well," said Canning.
Galway reached the league semi-finals only to lose to eventual champions Kilkenny, leaving Canning with a feeling that the Tribesmen have room for improvement in the summer.
"It's always frustrating to lose semi-finals, but we didn't deserve to be in the final. They were a better team than us on the day, Kilkenny, so you have to take that as well and just get on with it," he said.
The Cats and Tipperary sparked off an electric storm of scores in last Sunday's league final before Brian Cody's men emerged with a one-point win in a thriller.
The game was devoid of over-complicated tactics as they went at it hammer and tongs and that was no surprise to Canning who doesn't believe that the days of man-to-man, 15 v 15, are over.
"I think it was nearly 15 against 15 in the league match on Sunday. There was no extra man drawn out or anything like that.
"Everybody has their own traditions and everybody plays the way they have to," he says.
"This idea that just because Clare do something and they won an All-Ireland, every other county has to do it, that's not right either. You've a different set of players. You have to use what you have at your disposal."