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Tommy Dickson/INPHO Joe Canning was injured in the closing stages of Galway's league semi-final.
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Life without Canning - how will Galway cope when they begin hurling summer with star man ruled out?
Joe Canning’s injury is a serious setback to Galway’s 2019 hopes.

IF THE LAST shots fired in the 2019 hurling league yesterday underlined Limerick’s ranking at the head of the pack, it felt like the more salient item from the weekend occurred away from the pitch on Saturday afternoon.

Galway were not part of the final two contesting the spring showpiece but they provided the storyline that could have a greater impact in shaping the championship season to come.

When Joe Canning’s afternoon ended in Kilkenny last Sunday week on a stretcher, there was obvious concern as he was brought into the dressing-rooms underneath the Ted Stand.

By Monday there was some relief amongst Galway followers as the earliest whispers issued a diagnosis of a dead leg. But on Friday night word started to filter out that Canning had incurred a more severe injury and The Irish Examiner reported on Saturday morning that the level of worry in Galway had escalated.

And Saturday lunchtime brought confirmation of a serious setback for the player, his team and a county’s aspirations of this year yielding success.

A 295-word statement released by Galway GAA revealed the jarring news that Canning required surgery to repair a groin injury and that it was expected to entail a recovery period of 14-16 weeks.

To rub salt into the wound, the injury bulletin also explained that last year’s U21 captain Fintan Burke, a promising defender who looked poised to make the step up to the senior ranks, had ripped his cruciate to compound the All-Ireland club misery for St Thomas and would miss the rest of the year. 

Fintan Burke Gary Carr / INPHO Fintan Burke in action for St Thomas in the All-Ireland club semi-final. Gary Carr / INPHO / INPHO

Galway reported that Canning was ‘in good spirits’ and had ‘a positive mindset’ facing into rehabilitation. It’s a scenario he’s wearily accustomed to facing. The disappointment of the August 2016 All-Ireland semi-final loss to Tipperary was exacerbated by the hamstring tear he suffered before half-time. 

That damage nearly brought his career to a shattering halt but he exhibited his powers of recovery in remarkable fashion. By the close of the 2017 campaign Canning was Hurler of the Year, an All-Star winner and had realised a long-held ambition of being part of a Liam MacCarthy Cup triumph.

Joe Canning celebrates with the Liam MacCarthy cup Cathal Noonan / INPHO Joe Canning celebrates Galway's 2017 success. Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

Now he has to face into a period of restoration once more. The Leinster championship is set to wind up on 30 June, provincial action is thus out of bounds for Canning this year. The All-Ireland series kick-starts in July and that will be the target with the natural proviso that Galway are still knocking around then after clinching a top six spot. 

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Can Galway negotiate the series of assignments that sees them at home to Carlow, entertaining Wexford, travelling to Kilkenny and heading away to Dublin, without the presence of Canning?

It will be tricky. He reached the summit on that September afternoon against Waterford but there has been little sign of his powers waning since. His 2018 form was just as striking, if not arguably superior. Last August’s All-Ireland final may not have seen Canning dominate early on but he underpinned Galway’s fightback, ending up with 1-10 as they fell agonisingly short and Limerick celebrated getting over the line.

It’s pertinent also to consider the tone he had set to date in 2019. Galway’s march to the last four of the league saw Canning feature in six outings, the trip to Tullamore to face Offaly his only break. In total he supplied just under 50% (57 out of 120) of the white flags Galway raised in those six games and there were other demonstrations of leadership like the weaving run around four Waterford defenders in Walsh Park that enabled him to place Brian Concannon for a goal.

A player of his stature and a player in form is now unavailable to Galway who have already seen their resources hit. Joseph Cooney is based in Australia and Jonathan Glynn located in the USA, casting doubts over either being candidates for selection this summer. They’ll need their St Thomas crew to come back strongly from their club disappointment and hope Daithi Burke adjusts as seamlessly as before to hurling endeavours after football glory with Corofin.

A county who has collected three of the last four All-Ireland minor crowns and lifted the Leinster U21 title last July, could do with some of those products bounding effortlessly onto the senior stage. Then there will be the issue of who assumes the mantle of free-taking for Galway? Jason Flynn, Niall Burke and Conor Cooney seem the leading prospects but there is a tough act to follow.

Joe Canning celebrates after the game Cathal Noonan / INPHO Joe Canning and Micheal Donoghue celebrate Galway's 2017 All-Ireland final victory. Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

It is a headache that Micheál Donoghue could have done without. Limerick have not put a foot wrong this spring and trying to escape from the suffocating atmosphere of a Leinster round-robin before taking on Munster heavyweights will consume much of the Galway manager’s attention. Having his five-time All-Star winning prized asset to build around would have aided Donoghue’s cause.

Instead he enters April with the question hanging over his camp as to how they will operate without Canning. The injury robs the championship of a star that can light it up. Galway will feel his loss keenly. 

Will they rebound and get to a juncture where he joins them for an All-Ireland tilt? We’ll soon find out.

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