Sunday 21 October 2018

Joe Canning: 'My mam stitches miraculous medals into my shorts. I was wearing one when we won the All-Ireland'

Joe Canning (29) is a Galway senior hurler. They won the All-Ireland this year. Born in Portumna, he lives in Oranmore. He works in Canning Hurleys, the family business, and is a partner in the Camille Thai franchise in Limerick

Galway hurler Joe Canning
Galway hurler Joe Canning

Ciara Dwyer

I get up at 6.50am. Once I'm out of the bed, I'm not too bad. I have porridge made on milk, with flaxseeds and honey and some chia seeds. And I have a pint of water. Then I hit the road.

With the Galway hurlers, we have a nutritionist and everyone has their own tailored diet. I put on weight very easily, so I'd be eating fewer carbohydrates than the other guys. But coming up to the game and heavy training sessions, we'd be carb-loading. You put in the fuel to make your body go. And it's the same with water. We drink three litres a day.

I live in Oranmore, and then from Tuesday to Thursday, I go to Portumna to the Canning Hurleys business. I work there three days a week. I have to be at work on time, otherwise the brother will kill me. In the last two years, Audi Galway have given me a car - the A5. GAA is an amateur ethos. We don't get paid to play, but I'm lucky that I can avail of this, and I'm very grateful.

Canning Hurley is based at the back of my brother's house. We have a workshop there, and we produce hand-made hurleys for all ages. Normally, I'd be sanding or cutting out. Or if we're really busy getting orders ready, I'll post them out as well. People come to pick out their hurleys too.

I make my own stick. I'd be very particular about the weight and the balance. Everybody has a different preference. The three things that matter most are the weight, the shape and the size. I go for a hurley weighing 600 grams, and I like a nice balance throughout, so that it's not too heavy on the bottom or the handle. I don't like a spring in my hurl.

The unique thing about hand-making them is that we can tailor-make hurleys to anybody's liking. We don't use a template. Ours are hand-made, one by one. There's a great satisfaction when you see the product made from start to finish. I'm on my feet all day, always moving at the sander or whatever, and that's great.

I'd be very superstitious about my hurleys. I had one all year just for games. You fall in love with it, and it just becomes an extension of your arm. I tended not to use it during training, in case it broke. I'd always have three at a game, and then 10 at home, in the boot.

We set up this family business seven years ago. My dad was a farmer. My mam, Josephine, and dad, Sean, are both retired and enjoying life, thank god. They both played hurling when they were younger.

In 2005, my brother Ollie was playing in the senior final, and I was playing in the minor final. They were both on the same day in Croke Park. At half time, at the minor final, Dad had a heart attack. It was a big day, with two sons playing in an All-Ireland final. The excitement was too much for him.

My mam always has the holy water at home, and she stitches miraculous medals into the back of our shorts. I had a medal on in September on that day when we won the All-Ireland. It's amazing the amount of people in Galway you'd meet on the street who would give you a miraculous medal out of the blue. If you didn't put it on and you lost, you'd be wondering, 'Was that the reason?'. I'd be a little bit superstitious.

Being the baby in the family, I grew up surrounded by hurling. Everybody played at county level. When you're looking up at your siblings, you want to be like them, and even be better than them, if you can. There was always good competition in our family. Being from a big family, it's always about bragging rights, really.

A good competitive nature when you are young is good for you. Even though it's an amateur sport, it's a lifestyle choice as well. It wasn't pushed down my throat, but I always loved it. I played so many sports - rugby, tennis, golf - and I learned so many skills from them all. Rugby taught me about discipline towards officials. If you talk back to a referee, you might get a yellow card. I believe that if I hadn't played all those sports, I wouldn't have improved at hurling.

We train six days a week - after work in the evenings, and then Saturday mornings - and on the Sundays, we might have a match. Every day you are doing something, even if it's not high intensity. In hurling, you make friends for life because you start playing with them when you're six years old. You get good memories - and bad memories when you lose, but those failures drive you on to be more successful.

When we won the All-Ireland, there was a huge sense of relief. The pressure was off, and finally we achieved the ultimate. It was 29 years since we last won the All-Ireland in Galway. Since our win, you can see kids interested in taking up hurling.

At the weekends, I work with two colleagues. We have the Limerick franchise of Camille Thai - healthy Thai food. We started it last year, and business is flying. I'm doing this because I'm looking to the future. I want it to be a success for a family, if that ever happens, and to send them to college.

I'm 29, and there are not too many years left in me in competitive sport. My girlfriend doesn't come from a hurling background, but she understands it. I try to be in bed by 10.30pm. If you don't look after the body, you're going to break down eventually. Sleep is the most important recovery tool.

Hurling doesn't define me. I see myself as a normal person first, and a sports person second. I've grown up with claps on the back, but six inches away from a kick up the behind. And you get lots of those.

canninghurleys.ie

Audi Galway ambassador Joe Canning was at Audi Future Now 181 launch

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