By 9am tomorrow morning, people other than those inside the Galway camp will know if Joe Canning is in line to play in Sunday’s crucial Leinster Round 4 game in Nowlan Park. Being the hosts and for the purposes of the match programme, their opponents Kilkenny might know too, if the 2017 hurler of the year is to at least wear a jersey for the match.
Micheál Donoghue isn’t a man for ruses but even the anticipation of Canning playing some part might be worth losing one of his substitutes should he not be able to tog out. Kerry did something similar with Colm Cooper in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final replay win over Mayo and while its worth turned out to be negligible in the game, it gave Mayo another uncontrollable to consider.
Other teams have shown they can absorb the making do with less than 26 players to choose from, although Tipperary’s situation in Ennis last Sunday was not a matter of choice. Liam Sheedy lost James Barry and Niall O’Meara to sickness and injury respectively after the Thursday morning announcement deadline and so he had to make do with 24 players for the game against Clare.
“You know the rules, you have to call it at nine o’clock on a Thursday morning,” said Sheedy.
They (the CCCC) must think we’re going to start fun and games with it. We ended up with 24 but for me I think it’s a great sign of the panel and a great sign of the team that two lads that we had planned on starting stepped out and two other lads go in and that’s the beauty of it.
By Sunday, it will be 11 weeks since Canning was stretchered off late into the Division 1 semi-final loss to Waterford in Nowlan Park; just over 10 weeks since Galway management felt compelled to clarify his injury situation, that he had not suffered a dead leg and actually required a groin operation that would require a recovery period of 14 to 16 weeks.
“Earlier this week a number of media outlets reported on the fitness of Galway player Joe Canning,” part of the press release read. “These reports were entirely incorrect and were at no point checked with the Galway team management or medical team.”
The dead leg claim also upset Canning but regardless of the fact privacy and the little matter of the Hippocratic Oath preventing the medical team from confirming such details, those articles were largely based on a local report that he would be okay.
Derek McGrath and Ger Cunningham review the weekend's hurling with Anthony Daly
In hindsight, the collision and the length of time that was required to treat the player - as one local Galway commentator said afterwards, “The Cannings don’t stay down easy” - should have raised questions about that initial report. Four days later, the Irish Examiner reported the injury was worse than originally suggested, that it required surgery and he could miss the entire Leinster championship. Galway management confirmed as much in the aforementioned press release the following day.
This week marks nine weeks since Canning went under the knife and speaking last month, the 30-year-old was taking a philosophical approach to the setback. “I’m just taking it week-by-week, really and that’s all I can do, because if I set something for myself I might be disappointed if I get a setback. I’m just going with the physio, week-to-week, it’s four weeks now and I’m doing the rehab as best I can.”
The sight of the 2017 hurler of the year pucking around before the Wexford game in Pearse Stadium last Sunday week turned out to be the home crowd’s highlight of the day, as Galway were held. It was a tantalising vista, Superman in suspension, his cape half-cast and still bespectacled.
So often has Canning donned the cape for Galway, and Sunday is pretty close to one of those cries for help. “How do we know if we’re going to get out of Leinster?”
Canning himself asked last month. With three points from two home matches and Sunday the first of two gruelling away games in seven days, that question is even more pertinent. Returning on the field where he fell might be premature but it could be necessary and fitting too.