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'I’d be in pucking and messing around with Tony. He always had that little bit of mischief about him'

Joe Canning talks about his memories of Tony Keady that will appear in a new book, and his hopes for the 2018 championship.

JOE CANNING DOESN’T trust his older brothers to make his hurls, and personally stands over the creation of every stick he uses on the playing field.

Joe Canning Joe Canning Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

He says it in jest of course, but he does like to add his own touches to the stick before he can be happy with the end product.

The youngest of the seven Canning children helps out in the workshop of his family’s hurley-making business once or twice a week. This is where he puts the time in to craft his hurls to his exact specifications.

Aside from having the stick at a consistent weight of around 600g, there’s no one style or shape that he aims for when he’s making them.

The bás has naturally increased over the years, but his preference for all other elements of the hurl could change ‘from one week to the next’ as he revealed at a Bord Gáis event earlier this week launching the summer of hurling.

He goes by the feel of the hurl and uses his instincts to decide when it’s ready for road.

Canning’s picky nature when it comes to hurls is a characteristic he has carried with him since he was young, when another local hurley maker had to cater to his changeable tastes.

Two-time All-Ireland winner and former hurler of the year Tony Keady passed away last year shortly before Galway ended a 29-year drought to win back the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

It has recently emerged that Keady was in the process of working on his book with journalist Liam Hayes prior to his death, and his family have decided to finish the biography ‘One Hundred and Ten Percent Legend’ in his honour.

Canning has also contributed to the book through interviews with Hayes, who is the Head of Sport at the Irish Daily Mail and Irish Mail on Sunday.

Tony Keady 1990 Tony Keady Source: ©INPHO

An extract was published in the Irish Independent earlier this week and features memories of Keady’s hurley workshop in Gortanumera, where a young Joe Canning was a regular — and sometimes disruptive — customer.

“Joe would always go down to his workshop,” Tony’s wife Margaret explains in the book, “and Tony would come home for the dinner…and he’d say… ‘That Joe Canning… I got nothing done today, because he was down with me the whole time.’

She continues: ”Tony made so many hurls for Joe, and Joe… he was always so fussy.’

Reflecting on his own memories of frequenting Keady’s workplace, Canning says that he can’t disagree with her account of events.

“As Tony used to know, I’d be fairly finicky about the way I’d want them.

“His workshop with his brother-in-law Seán Nevin was about 300 yards from our National school at home in Gortunumera. I remember going up to the workshop and getting hurls off them.

Mam would be out in the car waiting for me for ages. I’d be in pucking and messing around with Tony. He always had that little bit of mischief about him and a twinkle in his eye that he was up to something.

“I have great memories of national school final in ’98. I went to a two-teacher school so it was seven-a-side, small goals. I remember Tony doing umpire at it because his nephew and niece were at the same school as me.

“It was a bit mad growing up with the legend there, even though he lived in a different part of Galway.

I live in Oranmore now in Galway and that’s where Tony lived for years so I would have always met him in the shop. He’d be roaring out the window ‘best of luck’ or whatever.”

The connection between the Cannings and the Keadys is still strong today. Joe’s niece Tegan has played camogie with Tony’s daughter Shannon on the Galway U16′s team. And Joe spent some time with the Keady family on the Croke Park pitch in the aftermath of the All-Ireland final last September.

Keady was part of a Galway team that won consecutive All-Ireland crowns in 1987 and 1988, and Canning could replicate that achievement this year, as Galway prepare to begin their Leinster championship against Offaly in Tullamore later this evening [Throw-in 7pm].

Conor Whelan has a shot on goal saved Galway's Conor Whelan has a goal-bound shot saved against Offaly in 2017. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Both sides met in Portlaoise last June where Galway posted an incredible 0-33 to crush the midland county before going on to win the provincial title the following month.

“They’re a different opposition to what we played last year,” notes Canning almost 12 months on from that fixture. “They were setting up more orthodox during the League.

“Kevin (Martin) has done a great job. They beat Dublin, ran Kilkenny very close and were unlucky not to beat them. They’re a big physical team and they have pace. They’re a little bit like ourselves in a way.

“It’s going to be a tough opener down there.”

Canning missed some of this year’s league campaign after undergoing an operation on his knee, playing just twice for Galway before they lost their Division 1 title against Wexford at the quarter-final stage. He has also lined out twice for his club Portumna in club championship.

He has been training since Christmas and feels he is at championship fitness despite the lack of game time. He would prefer to be playing matches rather than resting, but with his side facing into a block of four games in five weeks as part of the new round-robin system, he concedes that he might end up being glad of that time off.

Strength and conditioning coach Lukasz Kirszenstein is pleased with how Canning is progressing in any case, although the Polish trainer has been slightly unsettled by all the attention he has received for his contribution to Galway’s backroom team.

“He finds it a little bit embarrassing more than anything, ” says Canning. “We do take the piss out of him the whole time, all these people talking about him but Lukasz just gets on with his job for us. He doesn’t really like the attention to be honest.

“He’s just doing a job the same as everybody else is doing a job for us.”

Galway’s prospects for the 2018 championship have been boosted by the news that key forward Johnny Glynn will be staying at home for the summer as they look to defend their Leinster and All-Ireland titles.

The movements of the Ardrahan clubman provoked much discussion last year, after he rejoined the Galway panel in April while continuing to balance his time between his hurling at home and work commitments in New York.

Canning is glad to have Glynn exclusively on home soil for the duration of the championship but says that there may have been some confusion last year about the details of Glynn’s commute to the Big Apple.

Jonathan Glynn celebrates Johnny Glynn. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“He’s been back for the last number of weeks, since the start of the club championship.

He’s got a good bit of training done with us and he’s in great shape, the best shape he’s ever been in really. He’s a massive plus for us. You don’t get guys like Johnny every day of the week.

It’s funny, last year everybody thought he was flying over and back but that wasn’t the case. He was back for the duration of the Championship. It was a weird one. People said he was flying back every weekend for training, which is stupid really, but it’s a good story.

“He’s going to go back to New York after Championship again. He’s still working in New York from here, his job lets him do that. That’s the dream for everybody.”

The 2018 championship presents a different scenario for Micheál Donoghue’s charges. After ending an almost 30-year wait for All-Ireland glory, they are no longer part of the chasing pack and will go through this campaign with a target on their back.

Canning and his teammates are already aware of the pressures that will be placed on them to deliver on the big stage once again, but he insists that they will have no problems igniting fire in the bellies for each challenge along the way.

All going well, they might be able to take their place alongside Keady and company if they can manage to win the Liam MacCarthy Cup again for the second consecutive time.

“I think lads are chomping at the bit. Especially the last few weeks, since we came back from the club, it’s really stepped up. It’s been tough going to be honest, the training games and stuff like that.

“We’re looking forward to it. I think we’ve even added a little bit more this year. Training, and the games especially, has felt a little bit more physical.

Bord Gáis Energy Cupán Tae Café Launch Joe Canning along with Alan Cadogan of Cork and Wexford's Conor McDonald. Source: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

“We know what’s down the road. There’s a target on our back now that we’re All-Ireland champions. People want to beat us. Hopefully we’re ready for it but who knows until you play.”

Ambassador Joe Canning was on hand to launch Bord Gáis Energy’s summer of hurling.

Throughout the Senior Hurling Championship, Bord Gáis Energy will be offering fans unmissable GAA rewards through the Bord Gáis Energy Rewards Club.

For more, see #HurlingToTheCore

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