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Joe Canning's Reinvention As A Centre-Forward Is Complete, And The Results Are Frightening

Joe Canning's Reinvention As A Centre-Forward Is Complete, And The Results Are Frightening
By Michael McCarthy Updated
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For years now, the Donegal footballers and Galway hurlers have had the same problem. They want their talisman forward at the edge of the square. In the danger area. The fans are screaming for it.

The problem is, if your best player is stuck on the edge of the square, who's going to win the ball to hit it in to him? Donegal need Michael Murphy to give the ball in to Michael Murphy. Galway need Joe Canning to hit it in to Joe Canning.

That's been the dilemma for a long time now in Galway.  Canning is one of the most dangerous inside forwards in the history of the game, an outstanding finisher.

For example:


This was the ideal goal for the hurling purists and fans of the "put Joe inside" school of Galway fandom. A long, dangerous ball in to Canning, who outsmarts the full back and buries it.

Over the last ten years or so in Joe Canning's incredible inter-county career, there have been many days when Galway just didn't have the luxury of having their best hurler occupying the edge of the square, 100 yards from the play. They didn't have the ball winners, and they didn't the players to score from out the field.


Inevitably, his managers have been forced to play him in different positions to suit the flow of the game.

It hasn't always worked. Galway's frustrations over the past decade are borderline legendary at this stage. I've been at more than one game when supporters have been at the end of their tether, begging and pleading for the tactical switch of moving Joe Canning to full-forward.

And when he's in there, there was only one tactic acceptable to the same fans.


Hit it in to Joe!


During the 2013 Leinster final, when Dublin had the Galway fans slightly more wound up than normal, it was shouted so many times that it quickly became a refrain for my Dublin supporting friends in the pubs of the capital that night.

Such is the pressure on you if you're anointed as "the saviour". So much is expected of Canning from Galway fans, he often can't win. The truth is he just didn't have the supporting cast.


In the last couple of years though, the new generation of Galway forward has made life a lot easier for Galway management and for Canning himself. In the last two years, Cathal Mannion, Jason Flynn and Conor Whelan in particular have offered a threat in the Galway forward line that just wasn't there before.

Today's performance was a great example of what those three players offer.

  • Whelan: a workhorse corner forward with a brilliant ability to make a defender's life a misery. Today, he scored 5 points from play off Cathal Barrett, one of the best corner-backs in the country. It was the game of his life and deserved the man of the match award.
  • Flynn: a temperamental genius. He has his off days. He was wasteful in the first half today when we were still waiting for the Tipperary backlash. Then he turned it on, and scored two great goals in the second half.
  • Mannion: a quiet game today still ended up with 1-1, and has showed on plenty of occasions the explosive danger he poses.

With forwards like that to watch out for, and with the likes of Johnny Glynn to come back into the mix, there's a massive pressure taken off Canning. It's not to say there's less expected of him, but he isn't needed everywhere, he doesn't need to do everything, and a backline has more than one player to focus their attention on.


Late in Colm Cooper's career, he reinvented himself as a playmaking centre-forward, and that's the role that Joe Canning took up today. It was an outstanding display as Galway swept aside the All-Ireland champions in a 16 point hammering. He played out the field but didn't go rooting in every nook and cranny for the sliotar. He held his ground. And he dominated the game.

The results were superb. His nine points, and four from play, don't even tell the story. Canning in this kind of form makes everyone around him better. Donal O'Grady said on TG4 commentary that he sees the game seconds ahead of anyone else. That's probably the best way to describe his performance today. Given that vision and skill, this could be the perfect role for him if Galway commit to it throughout the championship.

Teams will have to mark him tighter than Tipperary did today, and there will always be the temptation to double team him. If they do, Galway have proved they have the forwards to take advantage. It makes for an incredibly potent strike-force.


Needless to say, Canning's performance today drew the acclaim of the masses.

Not a bad day at the office. It's his second League title and it was a real marker for Galway this season. It may not mean much come September but they've elevated themselves to serious contenders with this performance and with this win behind them, their semi final win in 2015, and the fact they were the only team who got near Tipp in a golden year in 2016, they will fancy that they may just have Tipperary's number.

Their defensive display which I haven't even alluded to yet was outstanding. If they can keep this up, and keep Canning fit and in this kind of playmaking form, there's a real chance they could finally get the Liam MacCarthy this great hurler deserves.

One thing's for sure, today proved that Joe Canning can be just as effective out the field as he is in the full forward line. Maybe today was the end of the "get in to Joe" brand of Galway hurling. It's time to try something new.

SEE ALSO: Listen: Galway Bay FM Commentators Were Almost Dumbfounded At The Hurling League Final Result

SEE ALSO: The Shocked Reaction To Galway's Absolute Pasting Of All-Ireland Champions Tipperary In League Final

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