Never getting obsessed with hurling and 'imbalances' in the body as Canning goes again

The Portumna star is facing into a Leinster semi-final against Wexford this weekend.

ON THE DAY he speaks to the media, Joe Canning’s mind is not on the prospect of restarting the inter-county season.

joe-canning Galway's Joe Canning is ready to play as long as it's the right thing to do. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

It’s 12 October, one week before the Government announces that the country is to move into Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions due to the rising number of cases.

The expectation is that elite sport will survive the cut. But debates rage about whether GAA players and their amateur status should qualify for that category. The club season has already been abruptly suspended, before some counties have completed their competitions.

Some feel, that with players having day jobs, the risk is too great to proceed with inter-county games. Others argue that protecting the championships is necessary to brighten up the national mood.

Even with competitions being reformatted, Canning’s Galway are likely to still be in the mix by the time December rolls around. But the possibility of being in the spotlight doesn’t dissuade him from looking at the bigger picture.

“For supporters,” Canning begins “just to see games on TV, to see your own county play, that’d be great for everyone in the country.

“But if it’s the right thing to do at the time.” 

Another question is put to him about facing into the old style format of knockout hurling rather than the round-robin competition. 

“No. What appeals to me is if we can actually play championship at all, to be straight up about it. 

“If ourselves and Wexford can play championship in a few weeks time then that’s all that matters.”

We’re now in Level 5 and the GAA championships are still on the agenda. We’re now just hours away from that Leinster SHC semi-final between the Tribesmen and Davy Fitzgerald’s Wexford getting underway in Croke Park.

This will be Galway’s first championship outing since making their shock exit from the provincial competition last year following their defeat to Dublin.

Canning was sprung from the bench as a second-half sub for that encounter, having spent much of Galway’s short season nursing a groin injury. It was the second major leg injury he had suffered in recent years.

In 2017, he underwent surgery for cartilage issues in his knee. He also tore his hamstring off the bone in Galway’s 2016 All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary. The All-Ireland winner is no stranger to the infirmary and lengthy recoveries.

joe-canning-celebrates-with-the-liam-maccarthy-cup Canning after Galway won the All-Ireland in 2017. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

But when asked if he feels fully refreshed this year having had additional time to rest over lockdown, Canning says:

“No, to be honest. It’s never going to be 100% right.

“I suppose in the last few years I’ve had two serious operations on my left leg, so I tore the hamstring off the bone in 2016 and then tore the groin adductor off the bone last year.

So that’s all my left leg and I’ve a lot of imbalances I suppose throughout my body.

“It’s like, if you break a hurl and fix it back together, yeah it’s fixed. But is it the same? No, it’s not. So I don’t think anybody is 100% in coming back from injury, especially at my age. I’m not a 21 or 22-year-old anymore. I’m plus 10 of that so when you get to that, it’s a lot harder to recover after sessions.

“I’m the best I can be at the moment and I’m looking forward to it. I’m feeling good, I’m feeling myself but I’d never be 100%, and if you are 100%, you’re not giving it everything in training because you’re holding back. It is really a combat sport so you’re going to get belt.

If you train hard enough, you’re always going to pick up little niggly injuries. I’m trying to recover as best I can and give it 100% every day you go out but as I said, you’re never 100%.

“Unless you’re hiding in training.”

This has been a unique season for the GAA. After years of discontent among fans, there was widespread relief when the club competition was given priority in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Along with getting more recognition, club teams were able to enjoy the better weather while inter-county outfits prepare to do battle in winter conditions.

Reshuffling the decks has encouraged debates about whether a split season is a viable option going forward. It certainly appeals to Canning.

“I enjoyed being back with the club and I think it’s the way forward. I actually think that club should be first in the year and then inter-county after that because if you think about it, for inter-county managers if you’re looking at the year previous for club players instead of looking at the exact same period, it will be a lot harder to pick guys on form.

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“So why not have the club at the start and pick players on form for that year and bring them into inter-county if the’re good enough.

I can’t fathom how there’s talk of Croke Park going on about inter-county first and then club after. Some things are just mad.”

After making his senior championship debut in 2008, Canning finally won his deserved Celtic Cross in 2017. The prevailing thought at the time was that it would have been one of the great hurling tragedies if he didn’t win an All-Ireland medal.

The monkey was finally off his back. Canning, however, didn’t see it that way.

He was dismissing that talk from even before he helped Galway end a 29-year wait to lift the Liam MacCarthy Cup three years ago.

The initial aftermath of their success didn’t alter his view and he still feels that way now. Hurling has always been just part of his life, rather than at the centre of it.

As long as it’s the right thing for public health, he’s happy to play.

I don’t think I was ever totally obsessed with it. I would have always had better interests, business interests and stuff. Trying to get away from hurling whenever I’m not training. I would have always been conscious that I could never be 24/7 switched onto hurling.

“That’s just not my personality because I think I’d fall out of love, to be able to do it. There’s lots of people who aren’t in a position to do what we do, week in, week out. Definitely, it’s a thing where I wouldn’t be obsessed with it as such.

“I would have always, not taken it lightly, but when I’m on, we’re on and when I’m off, we’re off. So I would have always had a healthy balance at times. And at other times, I’d be thinking about games and stuff like that.”

Joe Canning was speaking at the launch of Bord Gáis Energy’s sponsorship of the senior hurling Championship and U20 hurling championship

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