Yesterday, at the IT Carlow grounds, he contributed a massive 1-8 to help LIT edge out arch rivals UL to reach their second final in three years.
In the three games LIT have played so far in the championship, the Galway youngster, who recently won the Irish Examiner Junior Sports star of the Year award, has amassed the staggering 4-25, and even if he fails to score in this afternoon’s final in Dr Cullen Park, he will finish the tournament’s top scorer.
Eoin Kelly, himself a superb free taker, was in awe of Canning’s striking. “He is arguably the best in the game today,” said the Tipperary senior.
Canning contributed 1-7 from placed balls — the goal coming from a penalty after he was floored going through — and two of the points were from inside his own half, one from the 45 metre line.
However, this was by no means a one man show. LIT had to draw on all their experience to see off a gritty UL side and were grateful for the brilliance of Kilkenny’s Jackie Tyrell at full-back and the Tipperary pair of Shane McGrath and Conor O’Mahony in the half back line.
All three were majestic when the pressure was on as the university students whittled a seven point deficit down to three with five minutes to go. They had sufficient chances to at least force extra-time, but couldn’t get through for the equalising goal.
UL were hugely disappointed at failing to beat their Limerick city rivals. Defensively they were excellent with Kerry keeper Tadhg Flynn, Kieran Joyce (Kilkenny) and Clare’s Brendan Bugler giving nothing away. It was up front where most of their problems lay.
Four forwards were substituted and that tells its own story, but the fact that two subs — Mathew Ruth and David McCormack- were their goal scorers begs the question- was the right team chosen for such a vital match?
Unlike the first semi-final, this game was played at a cracking pace with some great hurling and outstanding individual performances. With both sets of backs on top, scores were scarce and two evenly matched sides were level twice in the opening quarter before Canning struck for a goal which gave his side a lead they never lost.
Winning James Skehill’s long range free, Canning had only one thing on his mind as he bore down on the UL goal. He duly planted the sliothar in the net, but it was ruled out by the referee who had blown the whistle for a foul.
Joe duly converted the resultant penalty and LIT were full value for their 1-6 to 0-5 half time lead.
Aided by the wind on the change over, LIT edged six points clear by the end of the third quarter as Canning struck over three, two beauties from long distance, and UL were in real danger of being well beaten.
Throwing caution to the wind UL introduced Mathew Ruth and David McCormack to their attack, and moved their captain Brendan Bugler up also. It has the desired effect. Ruth touched home Matt Whelan’s pass for a goal and, as LIT were forced to defend, Pa Donnellan’s point left just two between the sides.
As the tension mounted, LIT showed tremendous character with three unanswered points and only a superb save by Tadhg Flynn denied Canning a certain goal. Back came UL and amidst great excitement David McCormack threw the issue wide open for a second time when he got through for a goal. Brendan Bugler’s point then left just a puck of a ball between the sides as the game went into injury time.
UL peppered the LIT defence in search of an equalising goal but could find no way through before Iarla Tannion knocked over the insurance point in the 63rd minute.
Scorers – LIT: J. Canning 1-8 (0-7 frees, 1-0 pen.); K. Murphy 0-3; I. Tannian 0-2; A. Murphy, A. Callanan, J. Clancy 0-1 each.
UL: M, Ruth, D. McCormack 1-0 each; A. Egan 0-3 (frees); P. Donnellan, B. Bugler 0-2 each; S. O’Brien, P. Flynn 0-1 each.
LIT: J. Skehill; M. Walsh, J. Tyrell, A. Byrne; S. McGrath, C. O’Mahony, M. O’Brien; J. Clancy, K. Murphy; E. Cadogan, A. Murphy, I. Tannian; A. Callanan., J. Canning, J. McInerney.
Subs: B. Gaffney for Cadogan; D. O’Reilly for A. Murphy.
UL: T. Flynn; K. Joyce, A. Murphy, P. Dowling; S. O’Brien, B. Bugler, T. Stapleton; P. Donnellan, N. O Murchu; A. Kennedy, A. O Cairreallain, P. Flynn; R. Ruth, J. Greene, A. Egan.
Subs: M. Whelan for R. Ruth; M. Ruth for Greene; P. Holland for Kennedy; D. McCormack for O Cairreallain.
Referee: B. Kelly (Westmeath).