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'When I got up and tried to walk, I couldn't because I'd no power whatsoever in my hamstring.'

The Galway star on injury recovery and chasing that All-Ireland senior medal.

Joe Canning at yesterday's Bord Gáis Energy launch of their senior hurling championship sponsorship
Joe Canning at yesterday's Bord Gáis Energy launch of their senior hurling championship sponsorship
Image: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

A 10TH SEASON on the frontline with the Galway senior hurlers beckons for Joe Canning as he still chases that breakthrough All-Ireland win.

2016 saw that ambition to lift the Liam MacCarthy Cup thwarted at the semi-final stage in a narrow fashion by Tipperary.

For Canning the disappointment of that loss was exacerbated by the serious hamstring injury that forced him off at half-time.

The Portumna man was in Dublin yesterday as Bord Gáis Energy were announced as the new All-Ireland senior hurling championship sponsors.

He revealed the latest on his injury recovery, reflected on recent near misses and spoke of the Galway hurling frustrations at the lack of games for the county’s underage teams and absence of home matches for their senior sides.

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How’s the recovery from the injury going?

“Not too bad. It’s five months next Tuesday since the surgery, so they say it’s a seven-eight month kind of a thing. I’m a little bit ahead, but I’d say it will probably be March by the time I’m fully back.”

Was it close enough to a career ending injury?

“Yeah, I ripped the tendon basically. The muscle is fine. The tendon attaches the muscle to the bone in your arse basically!

“I’ve a centimetre-and-a-half left on the bone, so it’s just surgery to reattach that. But if it came off the bone, it usually brings a bit of the bone with it.

“So Paul O’Connell, let’s say for instance, would have brought some of the bone and that never really heals. You’d see a lot of rugby guys now retiring from it, the hamstring/tendon injury.”

Did you’ve any idea at the time of the severity of the injury?

“No. I thought, if we won the match, in my own head, I’d be back for the final. I thought – to be honest – I’d just pulled a muscle.

Joe Canning sustains an injury Joe Canning's injury occurred in last August's semi-final in Croke Park Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“I never even heard of this kind of an injury before, so it never came into my head at the time. It wasn’t until a few days later, when the physios…they probably weren’t going to hit me with it straight away! They thought it might be, and then the scans obviously proved it right.

“I remember thinking, ‘F***, I’m after twinging something here.’ But then you realise fairly soon that I properly did something.

“When I got up and tried to walk, I couldn’t because I’d no power whatsoever in my hamstring. I couldn’t lift my leg behind me. So I knew then it was bother.”

How difficult was it to watch the rest of the championship and see Tipperary go on to win the final?

“It was tough, watching it. I wasn’t going to come (to the final) but then I got a ticket the day before the match, to come. I was still in the brace and on crutches after surgery.

“To be straight up about it, it’s not the best feeling looking at an All-Ireland when you lose a semi-final, and with a bit of luck you could be there.”

“You’d be kind of half-sickened, to be straight up. There’s no point in saying any other way. You become very selfish in those kind of situations and you’re kind of going, ‘F*** it, like, we could have been there, that could be us.’

“But still, if we got to the final, you don’t know what could have been the result. Kilkenny could have beaten us.”

Is it hard not to feel sorry for yourself in that situation?

“It’s not feeling sorry for yourself in any way. It’s just frustration, I suppose. You’d like to be a part of winning.

“You see other guys winning so many – Kilkenny winning ten, 12, in the last number of years, and you’re kind of going ‘Jesus, if I only got one I’d be happy enough’.”

For the group is it easier to face into this season that last given all the off the field issues then?

“It’s just a new year. We’re just trying to find our feet with a few new guys. We don’t have a full panel to pick from, anywhere near it, at the moment.

“There’s a lot of guys being bedded into the team, a lot of younger guys. I think we finished with four of last year’s county minor team the other night.

“Two guys in the full-forward line – Cian Salmon, Evan Niland, Evan’s still doing his Leaving Cert. It makes me feel old, to be honest, 28, to be looking at these guys, because my nephew was hurling with them last year.

“It’s a funny kind of a start to the year, for me personally, because I’m not involved. But it’s exciting too. We know what the management want from us this year and how we want to play and how we want to go about things.”

Did you think you’d still be chasing the Holy Grail at this stage of your career?

“No. I don’t know if it’s just naivety or something like that. When you are younger you think you can and you have a chance.

“You think you have a chance every year to win an All Ireland. We’ve had a couple of shots at it and it hasn’t worked out

“But you are always thinking you are good enough, because you wouldn’t be doing it if you didn’t think deep down that you were good enough. I thought I might have one anyway.”

Joe Canning dejected A dejected Joe Canning after Galway's 2015 All-Ireland final loss to Kilkenny Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Is the long layoff any blessing in disguise for you, a chance to come back fresher?

“I think that’s bullshit really. All this talk about burn-out is ridiculous really because we get so well looked (after) by a county team, by a medical team.

“No player is going to get flogged. All you want to do is play games.”

Would you not be a candidate for burn-out given you’ve been playing a high level between club and county for so long?

“I took a year out. I was 19 (starting) in 2008. We played a lot of club back then. That was a good while ago. (We) won one again in 2014.

“You’re not training at the same level as county when you’re with the club. You’re probably missing out in a way on what your pre-season should be for championship.

“You need that harder training further on in the year. At the same time, when you’re with the club you’re trying to peak much earlier in the year.”

Would finishing the entire hurling season in one calendar year help in that case?

“Richie Hogan said it last year, maybe two groups of eight, Champions League style, would be the way to go.

“Play it off in a certain amount of weeks, say 12-14 weeks over the course of the summer, vecause we want to play matches.

“Every week or every second week I’d love to have a game, championship or whatever. Run it off that way. I’d love to see two groups of six, top two go to semi-finals, and play more matches.

“The amount of training compare (to matches). If you win a Munster or Leinster title, you’ve five weeks to wait.”

Damien Hayes, Joe Canning and David Collins celebrate   Joe Canning's sole Leinster title win to date came in 2012 Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

What about the motion from the Galway club Liam Mellowes seeking the county sides to move to Munster?

“I don’t see the benefit of going into Munster. What are we going to do? Munster mightn’t let us play home games either.

“It’s the underage thing, that the minors and U21′s get more matches. They’re missing out on development. At that level there is a huge gap.

“I know the U21 is knock-out – you can get back in after losing one of the minor games – but some counties have just one game a year, while other counties have four or five games throughout the year developing.

“Wexford the last three or so years have won three Leinster (U21) titles. They have a serious crew coming through that have played seriously competitive matches.

“Whereas all of our guys at 22, 23, have probably played three games over the last three years.”

You’ve only played two senior hurling championship games in Salthill for Galway, that must be something you’d like to see change?

“It’s the same with Kilkenny. The boys have only played two or three as well.

“In Galway, we’re fighting with a lot of other sports, rugby and soccer. It’s to promote the game down the west of Ireland rather than anything else.

“It’s very hard for people in Connemara for people who love hurling to travel an hour to Galway and then two hours to Dublin or wherever to see a game.

“Like we’ve played five or six games for the last couple of years, even if we got one game per year.”

When you look at the Connacht rugby success, that has stemmed in part from the Sportsground experience?

Niyi Adeolokun and John Muldoon John Muldoon and his Connacht teammates have made major strides in recent seasons Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“100 per cent. They can see them playing on a certain weekend in the Sportsground. That’s who they want to be, Johnny Muldoon or Tiernan O’Halloran or whoever because they see them up close and personal every second weekend.

“That’s understandable as well. If I was young again, I’d probably be the same, probably be drawn into the rugby because they are successful.

“When you’re a young guy, that’s what you aspire to.”

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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