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Even in defeat and injury, Canning puts on a memorable sideline scoring show

The Galway star exited the 2020 championship but his sideline cuts will live long in the memory.

Joe Canning takes a sideline cut in yesterday's game.
Joe Canning takes a sideline cut in yesterday's game.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

IT WAS NOT the first time that Johnny Coen and Joe Canning were involved in a notable passage of play near the Cusack Stand.

In the memorable 2017 All-Ireland hurling semi-final, it was Coen who scampered down the right wing for Galway, swivelled and popped the pass to Canning who despatched an unforgettable point that defeated then champions Tipperary.

It was in first-half injury time in yesterday’s semi-final as Galway again attacked the Hill 16 end, when a stray clearance from Dan Morrissey missed his Limerick target and Coen was the closest player as the sliotar rolled towards the sideline.

It looked like Coen had time to gather possession but instead he watched it roll out and left it down to be cut by his side’s attacking talisman. Six minutes previously the Loughrea man had again been the Galway player in the vicinity when the last touch came off Kyle Hayes to concede a sideline.

Coen simply passed the ball off to his team-mate to take the sideline and on both occasions the result was the same. Joe Canning floated both shots between the posts, just like he had in the first minute. In Coen’s actions there was an illustration of the trust in his colleague and the knowledge that Galway possess a type of scoring weapon that few others do. Why not utilise it as much as you can then?

The opening score of the half and the last score of the half were scored by the Portumna man, all via the same avenue. For good measure he knocked over his fourth sideline in the 41st minute. Canning’s match involvement ended on a low note after he was carted off when he accidentally collided with team-mate Joseph Cooney. He had endured a bruising afternoon, that hard challenge from Gearoid Hegarty occurring in between his second and third sideline cuts.

joe-canning-leaves-the-field-due-to-an-injury Joe Canning leaves the pitch in Croke Park. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Canning went from Croke Park to the nearby Mater Hospital where he was treated and then discharged. Galway officials have revealed he is now recovering at home from a suspected concussion. He wasn’t the game’s best forward, he didn’t end up on the victorious team and he couldn’t play on until the finish, yet Canning made a contribution in a specific aspect of the game that will live long in the memory.

With no official GAA statistics in place and records largely the preserve of a few dedicated followers around the country, there is not complete certainty over what Galway achieved in the sideline department yesterday. But it seems probable that their total of five – Fintan Burke stepping up to provide his own sublime effort after Canning’s withdrawal – is a senior championship record for a team.

It was largely driven by one man. Canning has long been marked down as a sideline cut specialist but he has elevated his form to another level in this truncated 2020 championship. The display against Limerick brought his tally to 0-7 from this campaign, he has split the posts in that fashion in every game.

The reaction of John Kiely was striking in his complaint afterwards of the amount of first-half injury time played. It pointed to a recognition from an opposing manager that his team needed to clamp down on sideline opportunities being presented to Canning.

“There was four minutes added time. It was then four minutes and 10 seconds into added time and the natural thing when the ball goes out of play is to blow it up for half time but play was allowed continue for another 40 seconds. 25% additional time added on for what, I don’t know.”

There are other statistics worth pointing out. The 32-year-old now has 0-27 to his career name in senior championship games. His nearest challenger in that regard is Mick Moroney, a Clare hurler from the ’70s, and he hit over eight. Consider that Noel McGrath and Austin Gleeson, two fairly renowned hurlers in their own right, have struck five apiece.

We have witnessed plenty of examples of Canning’s mastery of that particular part of hurling. In an U16 tournament game against Limerick in 2004 he rifled over three and matched that tally against Kilkenny in the 2008 All-Ireland U21 semi-final. There have been two-point tallies written on the board – Offaly in 2010, Wexford in 2018 and Clare, the drawn game, also in 2018.

There was another day when he struck over four in those attempts from the flanks. On a damp afternoon in March 2008, Canning registered that amount in Limerick IT colours in the Fitzgibbon Cup final in Cork. It was a component of his overall 1-16 return yet such scoring feats could not prevent his team slipping to defeat to Waterford IT.

It appears that four is Canning’s personal record for one game but yesterday stands out as it was in Galway colours and it was in the high-pressure atmosphere of an All-Ireland semi-final. The stands may have been absent and there was no wild noise to block out but there was still plenty at stake. With Limerick’s grip strengthening during that first half, Galway were glad to see those points registered. The execution and technique were a joy to watch as he guided his shots over the bar.

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Only Limerick and Waterford are left standing at the close of this strange hurling year, the former a powerful machine that keeps rolling on in a winning fashion and the latter responsible for a remarkable transformation in their fortunes. They are the deserved finalists.

And yet Canning, much like Tony Kelly and TJ Reid did with their exploits for their respective teams, provided an example of hurling brilliance.

Yesterday’s blast of sideline cuts alone was another addition to his personal Croke Park collection.

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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