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Canning: 'I don't want to overstay my welcome, be there on reputation or as a token gesture'

Galway great Joe Canning confirmed his retirement from inter-county hurling on a media call today.

Updated Jul 28th 2021, 8:05 PM

THE END OF a remarkable hurling career, announced publicly in striking circumstances.

Grouped media interviews are generally standard, run-of-the-mill affairs. Even more so now, in Covid times, with dodgy internet connections, audio issues, and the pixels of Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

More often than not, they go off without a hitch. A box ticking exercise of sorts, devoid of major newslines.

bord-gais-energy-hurling-to-core-2021 Joe Canning announced his retirement at the at the Bord Gáis Energy 2021 #HurlingToTheCore Media Day. Source: David Fitzgerald/SPORTSFILE

Today’s offering with now-retired Galway great Joe Canning proved the exception to the rule.

The Bord Gáis Energy 2021 #HurlingToTheCore Media Day is one that will forever be remembered, a very 2020/2021 way for one of the very best to bow out.

It was a routine opening as the Tribe talisman fielded the usual questions after his side’s All-Ireland championship exit: reflections on the Waterford defeat at the weekend, how the result was “very frustrating” and “hard to put a finger on”, and other general hurling discussion.

Then came the question every journalist on the call was most interested in, particularly given this morning’s interview on Off The Ball AM — “People want to retire me,” he said within, “I’ll leave it for another day”.

I heard you on Off The Ball this morning. You’re not listening to any of the talk of some pundits saying you’re already finished?

Canning paused, and drew breath.

“Ehmmm…”

Another pause.

“No. I am.”

He went on to explain that he was humming and hawing about publicly saying it, having informed his team-mates of his retirement decision in the dressing room after the Waterford game.

A phonecall with his brother following that Off The Ball interview ultimately made up his mind about telling the wider public and putting an end to the will he or won’t he go again? debate.

He ultimately concluded: “I’m finished with Galway, that’s the end of it. I should have said it earlier on but I’ve said it now anyway. That’s it.”

Clearly still hurting from the championship exit and of course, this decision, the 32-year-old Portumna star went on to cite injury struggles as the main reason behind it.

joe-canning-celebrates-after-the-game Celebrating with the Liam MacCarthy Cup. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Through a glittering senior career which began in scintillating fashion in 2008 and yielded an All-Ireland title in 2017, a Hurler of the Year award that same year, and five All-Star accolades, it’s something he has always had to deal with. Of late, that talk heightened.

“It’s physically, injury-wise (that’s the problem). I want to be able to train the whole time. I’ve had a couple of serious injuries over the last number of years. Even this year in the league; thumb injury, my hamstring went, my finger, my heel; that’s just to name a few.

I don’t want to just be part-time and training the odd time, I want to be offering the same as everybody else. I just don’t want to overstay my welcome either, don’t [want to] be there on reputation or as a token gesture.

“It was in me that I want to go out on my own terms and not have anybody else make the decision for me. That was always a thing in my own head from when I was young, that I’d always go out on my own terms.”

“I don’t think there’s any major regrets anyway,” he also noted at one point.

***

The curtain ultimately came down in Thurles, as Canning informing those he had soldiered with that this was the end of the road for him after the 1-30 to 3-20 qualifier defeat to the Déise.

That same day, on what would be his final appearance in the maroon jersey, he overtook Kilkenny great Henry Shefflin as the leading all-time scorer in championship hurling, with a remarkable 27-485 from 62 games.

In the Semple Stadium dressing room afterwards, he told his team he was finished.

“As I told them, I wasn’t expecting to tell them. I knew it was going to happen this year. I just didn’t think, to be honest, it would be Saturday evening, if I’m straight up about it.

“You go into a championship match and if you’re not expecting to win, you might as well not tog out in the first place. I had nothing prepared really.

Everybody dreams of this lovely way to go out and in my own head, it was going to be 22 August and hopefully win an All-Ireland, but that’s not to be.

“It was emotional enough, to be honest. I don’t know if they expected it or not but it is what it is. Life moves on. That’s hurling, that’s sport, you give it as good as you get until you think you can’t give it the same as everybody else. For me, I had made the decision a good while ago.”

Not only were his team-mates or manager, Shane O’Neill, presumably surprised; his nearest and dearest in his family were too. Before he headed for the dressing rooms, he had a chat with them.

bord-gais-energy-hurling-to-core-2021 #HurlingToTheCore ambassador Joe Canning, pictured alongside the Flaherty Family from Galway who star in this year’s second series of Bord Gáis Energy’s GAAGAABox.

“I went over to the stand, I told Dad. He was there with Ivan, the brother, and nephews. Mam was on the phone as well. I don’t think they even expected it.

“As I said, I didn’t…”

Another very 2020/2021 Microsoft Teams call interruption, as he’s barked over.

“Sorry there’s a dog here in the house going mad! As I said, I didn’t expect it myself for Saturday but it is what it is. That was the time to do it.”

Afterwards, he and the lads stayed together. Living in Limerick since last October, they used the city as a pre- and post-match base. They were in The Strand beforehand and afterwards, while a few returned to Canning’s house to stay the night after a few drinks.

Everybody met up in Galway the following day.

Reflecting on his career overall is something he hasn’t done just yet. A strange one, that’s for “another couple of Christmas’ time when you’re having a few pints with the family or something like that.”

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“I’m not one for really looking back at things yet anyway,” he added. “I’ll probably do it in another few months or years.

“Probably getting to hurl with Ollie with Galway was a big moment and Jack, my nephew, was in with us this year. We didn’t get to hurl together obviously in championship or league but just to be on the panel and training together was huge.”

Family and club is where it all starts, and where it all ends.

He’s looking forward to getting back with Portumna, heading to training on Friday night and preparing for a league game next Monday. Then, of course, it’s all about club championship.

joe-canning-looks-on-as-his-late-point-wins-the-game Canning watches on as his late point wins the 2017 All-Ireland semi-final. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

He’ll be on the outside looking in at Galway, but he’ll have plenty more to keep him busy.

“What happens now going forward?” he asks himself.

“I just hope I don’t become a Twitter expert like a lot of ex-players in the last few years, managers and stuff like that!

“Nah, just carry on living as normal as I can. without obviously going training with Galway and going up the road from Limerick three or four times a week. That’s basically it, go up to Portumna now instead. Train and play with them as much as I can, play a bit more golf and try and get the handicap down a bit more!”

He’s “very comfortable” that he’s planned out post-inter-county life away from sport, too.

“I have a lot of business interests and can give them a lot more time,” he nods.

But at the end of the day, it will always come back to his one true love of hurling.

“Even the club, even Portumna, just give them a bit more time and stay for as many years as I can. Train young lads and stuff like that with my club. That’s what I want to do in the next couple of years.”

We’ll be hearing about the great Joe Canning for plenty of time to come yet.

The Joe Show doesn’t stop here.

***

Joe Canning was speaking as a #HurlingToTheCore ambassador. You can watch GAAGAABox on Bord Gáis Energy’s #HurlingToTheCore YouTube channel throughout the Senior Hurling Championship.

About the author:

Emma Duffy

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