Joe Canning says he hopes the pressure of being a public figure and having to present the image of a “perfect person” will go away following his retirement.
The 32-year-old hurling icon surprised Galway supporters by calling it quits just days after shooting to the head of the all-time Championship scoring charts with 0-9 against Waterford.
Canning revealed that his private plan had been to collect his second All-Ireland medal next month and then retire, but the quarter-final defeat to Waterford ended Galway’s season.
The five-time All-Star will go down as one of the hurlers of his generation and a legend of the game with All-Irelands collected at various levels for his club, county, and college.
But the 2017 Hurler of the Year said it wasn’t always an idyllic existence and claimed that anyone who stepped into his shoes would quickly wish to step back out of them.
“At times I kind of struggled with it in the public, to be honest,” said Canning. “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 (person), just be this perfect person to other people and smile and be okay with people.
“But, you know, we all have shitty days too, that you can’t be nice to everybody, do you know what I mean? People have things going on in their life.
“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.”
Canning said that life around his friends, family, and clubmates was never a problem but admitted he sometimes encountered difficulties around strangers.
“It’s difficult when people are not in your circle, they think they can just go up and pull the piss 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 2018, a month or two after, and I was just in a bar and a lad came up with a camera phone and stuck it in my face and he was singing ‘Up Limerick!’ and what not.
“So you get that kind of stuff where you’re out and about a lot of the time. I’m not the only one. There are 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.”
Canning made his senior debut as a boy wonder in 2008, blasting 2-6 in their Championship opener against Antrim that summer in Belfast.
He was billed for greatness from an early age and duly delivered with an unmatched 27-485 in his 13-year Championship career.
But injuries became an issue and even last Saturday he thought he’d cracked a bone in his wrist after being struck by Conor Gleeson just before half-time.
“It was fairly sore,” said Canning. “I basically just to said to him, ‘Doc’, and we were 15 or 16 points down or something like that, ‘listen, this is probably going to be my last game so could you strap it up and I’ll take a few paracetamol and I’ll try to stay on for as long as I can’.”
Galway ended up reducing a 16-point deficit to just three late on with Canning’s sumptuous pass for Jason Flynn’s first goal the moment of the game.
But it wasn’t enough and Waterford escaped with a four-point win, leaving Canning to break the retirement news to teammates.
“I was hoping it would be the end of August and you do see these fairytale endings but we all can’t get it that way,” he said. “I didn’t think it would be Saturday because I honestly thought we’d have a good crack at trying to win the All-Ireland. But that’s life.”
Canning at least retired with an All-Ireland senior medal though doesn’t view that as validation of his career.
“There’s people 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? They haven’t won an All-Ireland. No, it doesn’t. I’d still rate them above most players in Ireland.”
- Joe Canning was speaking as a brand ambassador at a Bord Gais Energy media event to promote their #HurlingToTheCore campaign.