THE PROBLEM WITH starting off on the front foot is that you have to stay there forever.
Joe Canning knows this better than anyone.
Already earmarked as the next great hurling superstar, the Portumna teenager took the hurling championship by storm in 2008 when he helped Diarmuid O’Sullivan on his way to retirement and hit 2-12 of Galway’s 2-15 in defeat to Cork. At the home of hurling in Thurles, Canning looked to the manner born.
Not that any hurling fan not hiding under a rock for the previous few years wouldn’t have known about him.
Nor would those who were dishing out the rough treatement in the Galway club championship, or those who would see him secure his place on the Fitzgibbon Cup team of the century with LIT, not to mention him being in line for a hat-trick of minor All Irelands with the Tribe.
As slapstick Futurama character Zapp Brannigan once quipped: “Has my reputation preceded me or was I too quick for it?”
The problem for Canning is that the statistics below would suggest that, arguably, he has not quite lived up to what he had for so long promised.
Galway will have to do without the Portumna man for something in the region of six weeks now after a shoulder injury incurred during LIT’s win over GMIT on Tuesday. It means Anthony Cunningham’s side will have to regain the league title they won in 2010 – when Canning hit 1-5 in just his second NHL game of the season – without their marquee player.
League of his own
Canning has not been a major player in the National League during his career having often been either preoccupied with Portumna’s club campaigns or absent due to injury. He did however almost drag Galway to a league title in his first year (2008) and scored a brilliant goal in the final against Tipperary after brushing off three defenders.
As with the Cork championship fixture to come that season, the bar had been set high by the then 19-year-old.
Yet when we look at the itemised bill below, 2009 was a disappointing year. He worried Kilkenny in the Leinster semi-final with a brilliant goal early on but Kilkenny smothered him out thereafter. James McInerney dominated Canning for much of the game when the Tribe won in Clare while he got just a point from play in the win over Cork. A very generous All Star was granted to the Galway forward after yet another muted performance against Waterford.
As the man who had given him his Galway debut, Ger Loughnane, said at the time:
“Canning’s selection on the (All Star) team is a huge surprise, as I’m sure he’s admit himself that he didn’t make a big mark on senior hurling in 2009. He got a great goal early on against Kilkenny in the Leinster semi-final, but made very little impact on that game otherwise… Free-taking is a great skill to have but should you win an All Star due to dead-ball ability? I wouldn’t have thought so.”
2010 produced another couple of key moments for Canning – an important long-range point against Offaly, winning and scoring a penalty (in defeat to Tipp) but he was again rather muted, and the player himself said so at the end of the season. “I had a very bad year, to be honest about it. I’ll be straight up. I didn’t perform at all this year. It is something I have to look at. I have to try and get back to training and get back scoring and creating and getting on the ball a bit more. It just didn’t happen for me.”
LIT’s Joe Canning takes a free against UL in the Fitzgibbon Cup earlier this month. INPHO/James Crombie
As fellow wunderkind Eoin Kelly (of Tipperary) found out, it can take time to build on early promise. Kelly won All Stars for five years running in his formative seasons playing for Tipperary but there was a gap between 2006 and 2010 when he struggled, due to injury and the form of his county side. No-one doubted the talent and it is the same with Canning. If he retired without leading Galway to an All Ireland – as Kelly did – it would go down as a big surprise. But until he and his teammates can produce the good in the last game of the season, so it will remain.
The west’s asleep
That never looked likely in 2011 as Galway limped from one poor performance to the next. Canning typified the county’s profligacy in the 0-19 to 2-07 loss to Dublin in Tullamore. He got an early goal after Tomas Brady’s knee gave way but he wasted seven free-scoring chances and looked to be trying to do much on his own, thus hampering both himself and his lacklustre team.
There were signs of recovery against poor Clare and Cork sides but the drubbing to Waterford came amid another muted display from Canning. As Kelly found with Tipp, without someone to help you carry the water, it can be very hard to turn it into wine. The player is therefore putting too much on his own back, and it’s a load too heavy.
Canning can’t perform miracles and while we might have expected him too given his billing, we are arguably being denied the brilliance he can so obviously produce.
Galway’s Joe Canning scores a penalty against Waterford in the All-Ireland SHC quarter-final in Thurles. INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan
JOE CANNING’S CHAMPIONSHIP CAREER
Galway 6-21 Antrim 1-10
2-06 (1-02f) – A debut for 19-year-old Canning and against what was a very poor Antrim side. Canning’s two first-half goals, one from a free, killed off the game as he notched 2-04 in the first half.
Galway 1-26 Laois 0-09
0-09 (0-4f) – Against a Laois side that had seen manager Damien Fox resign because of poor turnouts at training, Galway coasted to a 20-point win. Canning hit 0-09 but was somewhat quiet from play. Clipped a goal chance off the upright in the second half.
Galway 2-15 Cork 0-23
2-12 (1-6f, 0-1 sl) – A game for which Canning will always be remembered; he hit 2-12 of his team’s 2-15 in just his third championship outing, and a first against top-class opposition. His performance saw full-back Diarmiud O’Sullivan taken off and John Gardiner put in at three. Unlucky to not be on the winning side of a classic at Semple Stadium.
Galway 5-29 Laois 0-17
1-10 (0-6f) – Scored a powerful goal to put the game to bed early. Taken off early to spare him for next round.
Galway 3-13 Kilkenny 2-20
2-09 (1-07f, 0-02 ’65) – Routed Kilkenny early in the game with a class goal (his only score from play) but John Tennyson was dropped back in front of him for extra cover and the Portumna’s man influence waned dramatically. Scored a 20-metre free early in the second half.
Galway 2-18 Clare 1-11
0-7 (0-5f, 0-1 ’65) – James McInerney dominated Canning for much of the game and the full-forward landed just a solitary point from play.
Galway 1-19 Cork 0-15
0-11 (0-08f, 0-01 ’65, 0-01 sl) – Scored six frees in the first half and drew a fine save from Donal Óg Cusack; when the goalkeeper saved another in the second half, Joe Gantley fired the rebound to the net.
Galway 0-18 Waterford 1-16
0-9 (0-6f, 0-1 ’65, 0-1 sl) – Tacked on frees and kicked one over the bar but missed a late chance at a leveller and again was fairly muted. After a poor run of games, Canning’s All Star seemed very generous.
Galway 2-22 Wexford 1-14
1-3 (1-0f) – Keith Rossiter did a good man-marking job on Canning, the goal was a 21-metre free.
Galway 2-19 Offaly 3-16
1-5 (0-1f, 0-2 sl) – Tightly marked by David Kenny but goaled after Cyril Donnellan’s assist and put over a fine point to push his side ahead near the end.
Galway 3-17 Offaly 2-18 (replay)
1-3 – Crisp finish for a goal in the first half and another late long-range score by Canning but this time Offaly could not respond. Big score when it mattered.
Kilkenny 1-19 Galway 1-12
0-2 (0-1 sl) – Very much isolated in the Galway attack as John McIntyre got his tactics wrong and the Connacht side underperformed badly in their maiden Leinster final. Set up a nice score for Eoin Lynch with a delightful flick.
Tipperary 3-17 Galway 3-16
1-5 (1-0 pen, 0-3f, 0-1 ’65, 0-1 sl) – Canning was kept quiet for long periods but did win a penalty after Paudie Maher’s mistake and buried it. Did not score from play.
Galway 4-17 Westmeath 2-14
0-3f – Came on for the final quarter hour and tacked on three frees with Galway finally pushing themselves beyond the Lake County.
Dublin 0-19 Galway 2-07
1-3 (0-2f) – Underperformed in what was a shoddy team showing. Canning wasted seven scoring chances from frees and his decision making looks very wide of the mark. Tried to do too much on his own but got one lovely point and smacked home a goal after Tomas Brady collapsed with a knee injury.
Galway 4-25 Clare 0-20
1-9 (0-3f, 0-1 ’65, 0-1 sl) – Canning was the star of the show as Clare’s team took a submissive role at Pearse Stadium. The Joe Show saw off a couple of challenges to get his side’s third goal early on and the Banner’s frustrations with the Portumna man were summed up when James McInerney saw red for pulling across him.
Cork 1-14 Galway 2-23
0-10 (0-4f, 0-1 ’65) – Took time to grow into the game but eventually Canning took Cork apart, summed up beautifully when he assisted David Burke’s point with an amazing reverse handpass.
YouTube credit: VicMackey0
1-6 (1-0 pen, 0-2f, 0-1 ’65) – Canning picked up half his side’s scores in a terrible overall diaplay. Hardly a sterling display from the Portumna man but the buck does not stop with him for this putrid showing
2011 – 3-31 (2-13 or 55% from play) from five games
2010 – 4-18 (2-9 or 50% from play) from five games
2009 – 3-46 (2-7 or 24% from play) from five games
2008 – 4-27 (2-14 or 51% from play) from three games
Overall – 14-122 (8-41 or 38% from play) from 18 games (averaging 10 points per game, 0-6 being from frees)
What do you think?