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legend departs Joe Canning: Why I decided to call time on my Galway career

Galway legend hopes that ‘pressure is gone now’ after decision to hang up boots

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Joe Canning announced his retirement from the intercounty game at the launch of the second series of Bord Gáis Energy’s GAAGAABox yesterday. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Joe Canning announced his retirement from the intercounty game at the launch of the second series of Bord Gáis Energy’s GAAGAABox yesterday. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Galway's Joe Canning with his dad Seán and supporters after the Tribesmen's All-Ireland SHC round 2 defeat to Waterford at Semple Stadium. Photo by: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Galway's Joe Canning with his dad Seán and supporters after the Tribesmen's All-Ireland SHC round 2 defeat to Waterford at Semple Stadium. Photo by: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

#HurlingToTheCore ambassador Joe Canning, pictured ahead of this year’s second series of Bord Gáis Energy’s GAAGAABox, which features the most passionate hurling fans across the country filmed in their front-rooms as they experience the agony and ecstasy of following their counties’ fortunes from home. You can watch GAAGAABox on Bord Gáis Energy’s #HurlingToTheCore YouTube channel throughout the Senior Hurling Championship. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

#HurlingToTheCore ambassador Joe Canning, pictured ahead of this year’s second series of Bord Gáis Energy’s GAAGAABox, which features the most passionate hurling fans across the country filmed in their front-rooms as they experience the agony and ecstasy of following their counties’ fortunes from home. You can watch GAAGAABox on Bord Gáis Energy’s #HurlingToTheCore YouTube channel throughout the Senior Hurling Championship. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Galway's Ollie Canning

Galway's Ollie Canning

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Joe Canning announced his retirement from the intercounty game at the launch of the second series of Bord Gáis Energy’s GAAGAABox yesterday. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

When Galway’s fate was confirmed with the final whistle last Saturday, no one knew it at the time but Joe Canning’s was too.

On the day he became the all-time leading scorer in the history of the championship, he took a moment to acknowledge that he was done, rather than digest the great personal milestone.

He sidled over to the stand to tell his family. They didn’t know but it was a decision he’d been coming too for a while. It was just one he hoped to make in Croke Park later this year, after being reunited with Liam MacCarthy.

In the Galway dressing room, he announced his decision. Injury made up his mind for him. That group were never going to be together again, he wanted to tell them and thank them all at the same time. And that was it. The Joe Show was over.

“I’d made up my own mind,” Canning reflected. “I rang Frank, my other brother, to be honest. I chat to him about a lot of things. Yeah, like, I knew after the match, I went over to Dad and Ivan in the stand, Mam was on the phone. I said it to them there, straight after the match.

“So I knew then but the fact of actually telling the public, it was only just this morning that I rang Frank and I said ‘I think I should just....’ I’m not making a statement or anything like that or I’m not doing a Tweet about it or.

“But eventually, it (the retirement news) was probably going to be there when I wasn’t on the panel next year but I was saying to Frank, ‘I’ll just do it now and get it over with and it’ll be done and gone in a day or two and we can live our lives normally then’.

“He said, ‘Yeah, if that’s what you think’. And that was it basically. But as I said, the lads knew from Saturday evening after the game. I asked them and I asked people just to keep it quiet because I didn’t want any big thing.

“The way people are talking the last couple of days, it’s kind of, ‘Will I or won’t I’ and that’s the last thing I want to keep going on, a sideshow for the next few months.

“So that’s why I said....and Frank said to me, ‘Just nip it in the bud now and don’t have people telling you that you should or you shouldn’t when you know yourself you’re gone’.”

It’s a mark of the esteem he is held in that the news never leaked out. Canning had earned the right to go out on his own terms. And that arrived yesterday with a few simple words.

“That’s it, I’m finished with Galway now,” he said when asked about what the future held for him.

As with most things these days, Canning’s media call through Bord Gáis Energy was done over Zoom.

They are usually soulless experiences, all battered cliches and tinny echoes. But there was a funereal air to this call.

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Usually participants can see as well as hear each other but Canning never came on screen, opting instead to spit out the words via audio only and make it official.

It marked the end of something extraordinary and something that has been all encompassing since his mid-teens. Joe Canning isn’t like most of us. He was yoked with expectation for long before he hurled senior for Galway. The boy wonder with the famous name was here to lead his county to the summit.

In some ways he’d only himself to blame because he quite quickly confirmed that the hype was real. By the time he was 16 he’d hit 1-11 in a county final. The following February they’d won the club All-Ireland. Galway wanted him too and he’d played three successive All-Ireland minor finals. In that time, he also fitted in a national storm that emanated from the fiery 2006 Galway final. A famous photo of a boot seemingly headed for Joe while he lay prone on the floor represented that whole saga. The upshot was that the Cannings opted out of Galway duty for the ’07 season.

When his championship debut did come, he left scorched earth behind him and hit Cork for 2-12. Canning was a phenomenon and everyone wanted a piece. That was something he wasn’t always at ease with.

“At times I kind of struggled with it in the public, to be honest. A lot of places you go, you’re known and you can’t just be a normal person, if you know what I mean? Sometimes I just felt uncomfortable around people. Because it’s weird, at times you feel you have to be another kind of... just be this perfect person to other people and smile and be okay with people.

“But you know, we all have sh***y days too, that you can’t be nice to everybody, you know what I mean? People have things going on in their life. I always felt... people often said to me, ‘It would be great to be Joe Canning’ and I’m like, ‘No, live my life for a week or two and you’d love to get back to your own life again’. It’s not great at times. At other times it’s fine.

“But yeah, there was always a pressure to perform on the pitch. There was always an expectation to be what people perceived me to be, which is difficult to deal with at times.

“Hopefully that pressure is gone now.”

“It’s difficult when people are not in your circle, they think they can just go up and pull the p*** out of you and, yeah, it’s kind of a laugh for them more so than anything most of the time. I remember I was out in Limerick after the All-Ireland in ’18, a month or two after, and I was just in a bar and a lad came up with a camera phone and just stuck it in my face and he was singing ‘Up Limerick!’ and what not.

“So you get that kind of stuff when you’re out and about a lot of the time. I’m not the only one. There’s loads of people that probably get that. I’m not playing a fiddle or anything but that’s probably just the negative side of things that hopefully will be a little bit easier to deal with when I’m out of the public eye from playing sport with the county, yeah.”

That’s not meant to come across as a moan, rather just a acknowledgement that things will change for him now. That as much as he’ll miss hurling, there’s stuff he won’t miss either. He departs the stage with one All-Ireland medal. It feels a stingy haul for some of the almost balletic things he’s done.

Canning has a different view.

“I always said an All-Ireland wouldn’t define me, whether I won it or lost it. There’s lots of better hurlers than me than never won an All-Ireland. Just because I was lucky enough to be on a team with Galway in ’17 that won it, doesn’t make me a better player or a lesser player than anybody else. There’s people that have probably six, seven All-Irelands in their back pocket and never pucked a ball in Croke Park.

“Does that make them a better player than the likes of Ollie, my brother, Ken McGrath, John Mullane, these lads that haven’t won an All-Ireland? No it doesn’t. I’d still rate them above most players in Ireland.

“Winning an All-Ireland is nice, it’s fine, it’s obviously a great honour and a great privilege but I never looked at that and said, that’s me fulfilled or that makes me better than anybody else. It’s nice to have but I don’t look at it as the be-all and end-all. If I didn’t win it, so be it.”

He departs now, top of the scoring charts, assured of his place in hurling’s hall of fame.

“I’m not going to go around saying, ‘Jeez, wasn’t I a great man?’ or ‘Jeez, I think I should be up there in the top 20 or the top 10’ or whatever. That’s not how I go about things. Life moves on, there’ll be more people, more hurlers that will come along that are way better than me.

“And that’s the beauty of sport, that’s just the way it is. There’s always going to be better players coming along in the next generation. Yeah, so, that’s up for other people to discuss basically, yeah.”

The conversation will rage in the coming days.

And though Canning says himself that he always had other interests an wasn’t “overly obsessed” with the game, but perhaps the game was obsessed with him.


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