In Defence Of Joe Canning

In Defence Of Joe Canning
Conor Neville
By Conor Neville
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As Galway floundered in the second half of the All-Ireland final, the view from one corner of the Canal End was that one man and one man alone was to blame.

Operating under ferocious pressure, their defenders began panicking and started hitting aimless balls on top of unattended Kilkenny sweepers, their ball winning half-forwards were getting hooked any time they attempted any kind of swing and they were unable to force the ball past the middle third of the field.

One supporter was able to observe half-backs blazing aimless balls on top of the Kilkenny half-back line and get to the heart of who was really to blame.

- 'What the hell is Joe doing there. He'll get nothing there.'

- 'Where the hell is Canning gone to?'

- 'Canning, will you do something!'

Benchwarmers tweeted an image of a milk carton bearing a picture of Canning, saying 'MISSING: Joe Canning. If found, please return to the Galway full forward line'.


This, in a match where he scored 1-8 in an All-Ireland final against Kilkenny.

On Off the Ball last month, Canning (half jokingly) admitted that scoring 2-12 on his championship debut back in 2008 was the worst thing he had ever done.

I always feel pressure is on me. I hit nine wides against Cork and there was a lot of negativity about it. I hit six or seven in the Tipperary game and that was zoned in on as well. I think one of the worst things I ever did was score 2-12 against Cork in the beginning of my career. Now it seems that if I'm not hitting 2-12 in every game there's someone always on my case.

The pressure on him is intense and can be seen whenever he misses a free. One can hear the ripples of consternation/delight in the crowd. The glee among opposition supporters is that bit more pronounced. The mutterings of the ranks of iconoclasts suggesting the Portumna man 'isn't all that' grows even louder.

He's is habitually compared to Henry Shefflin, a comparison which has become something of a millstone by the middle 2010s. Shefflin enjoyed certain advantages which weren't applicable in the case of Canning. While not the imperious outfit of later years, Kilkenny were still a strong side and Shefflin walked into a forward line with DJ Carey in it's ranks.

Canning arrived into a Galway that hadn't won anything in two decades and immediately looked to him for salvation. In his first championship outing he scored all bar 0-3 of his team's tally. And they lost.


It is a different environment and culture to the one Shefflin imbibed in his early days.

Pundits and supporters take moments of Canning brilliance for granted and barely dwell on them. In the aftermath of the 2012 Leinster Final earthquake, Galway supporters outside the ground were happily speculating about Man of the Match candidates.

Names like Cyril Donnellon, David Burke and Johnny Coen were tossed out. One member of the party stopped them. Had anyone other than Joe Canning put in the performance Joe Canning did that day, there would be no debate about the Man of the Match. In the subsequent All-Ireland semi-final, he hit 0-11, with five points coming from play, but this attracted little comment. The commentariat greeted it as if it were a standard performance.


Ger Loughnane and Daithi Regan criticised him after the 2014 drawn match with Kilkenny, with the former suggesting he was on the way to becoming the Billy Beane of hurling and writing that he 'was very average up to the last 10 minutes of the match'.

Playing at centre-half forward, Canning won seven clean possessions from puckouts in that game. Against Kilkenny. But that counted for nothing. His sublime first half display against Tipperary in the subsequent qualifier was also forgotten as Galway collapsed in the closing stages.

Since 2008, he has scored 24 goals in the championship.


Then, there is the continual debate about where to play him. 'Where should they play Joe?' is now one of the great questions of our time.

It's only a matter of time before the government decides to call a referendum and put this question to the people.

Both Canning himself, and the manager on the line, get criticised when he ends up around the middle of the field. But when Galway are losing, they get criticised for keeping him isolated and too far forward.


There are traditionalists who regard placing Canning anywhere other than on the edge of the square is tantamount to sacrilege. Then, there is the smattering of contrarian intellectuals who are open to idea that Joe should be allowed swan around the half-forward line, getting on to more ball.

2015 was regarded as a patchy year for Canning. And yet, at a table quiz a fortnight ago, many tables, torn between plumping for Seamus Callanan and TJ Reid, were surprised to learn that Canning was the top scorer in the 2015 championship. This comes with an obvious proviso. Galway played seven matches in this year's championship (how things have changed since the '80s), three more than Kilkenny, and four more than Tipperary. But still, when was the last time the season's top scorer was regarded as having a ropey year.

It's clear that Canning's astonishing 2-12 against Cork in Thurles in 2008 has created problems for him. Anything less than that and people are grumbling.

For Galway's sake, the pressure needs to ease on Canning. Perhaps the best solution is that there is a moratorium on all Joe Canning related talk for the next year. Starting from now, of course.

Read more: Likely New Kildare Boss Has Firm Opinions On What Inter-County Trainers Are Doing Wrong



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