Joe Canning has seen — and heard — it all by now.
Patted on the back one day, kicked in the arse the next, Galway’s inconsistencies have left them at risk of being killed by kindness one day and drowned in bile the next. So he has taken the hyperbole since their 16-point league final defeat of Tipperary last month in his stride.
Underdogs pulling in to Limerick’s Gaelic Grounds, they departed for home that same evening with a whole new level of expectation circling them. Cyril Farrell, speaking on TV that evening, went as far as to say they were now favourites for the Liam MacCarthy.
“Cyril Farrell? If he could get my name right it would be a start anyway,” Canning joked, “if he starts calling me Canning instead of Cannon. Ah no, Cyril doesn’t live too far away from me at home and it’s crazy talk, obviously. He got a bit excited, yeah. You’d take that with a bit of salt.”
Old habits could yet haunt them. He knows as much. “Inside the camp it’s the same. We realise that a lot of (the All-Ireland talk) is bullshit, really. People lose the rub of themselves after 70 minutes of a hurling match. I don’t think any other team would have beaten Waterford after two semi-finals other than Kilkenny.
“Then they lose the All-Ireland to Tipperary and everybody writes them off. Perspective is lost a lot of the time. I’d rather judge a team on five or six matches than just one. We realise that. Certainly the older guys do because we have been around a while and seen it happen in the past.
“We won’t be thinking we’re better than anybody else.”
Farrell’s giddiness and shrinking odds about their championship chances weren’t the only knee-jerk reactions to make him wonder. Claims it was ill-advised to hold a sort of homecoming with the cup at St Thomas’, the home of captain David Burke, were mentioned too.
Canning wasn’t actually at that gathering. Work commitments after the game prevented him from making the trip with the rest of the panel but he has been amazed by the focus on that small gesture and puzzled by the criticisms.
“I don’t understand that,” said the three-time All Star. “At the end of the day we’re just trying to promote the game. We’re amateur players and we’re trying to get the next generation to aspire to be the next hurlers and the next players in Galway.
“And if we can’t go down to a club for 20 minutes, to show them the cup and meet some of the youngsters, why are we playing the game? Why are we trying to promote the game? Why are we playing in Croke Park? Why are ye writing about the game?”
This isn’t just about Galway.
Winning captains will, almost to a man, play down their successes when they collect the various provincial trophies in mid-summer. The stock response will be muted, one of utter focus and joylessness lest they be seen to actually enjoy the moment and ‘get carried away’ with themselves. Give no one any ammunition, is the mantra.
“I think you need to flip it around a little bit,” said Canning. “I think people are a little bit … it’s gone a little bit conservative, in a way. And there’s less characters. I don’t know if it’s just the Irish culture: Be negative about everything, don’t praise anybody, or don’t promote anything.
“Like, you’d swear we went back to Eyre Square and had an open-top bus, like Connacht (rugby) had last year.”
His own views on their league campaign are equivocal. Failure to regain their place in 1A was tempered by the glint of silverware. He looks at it as a success and a failure but doesn’t play down the value of Galway claiming what is a rare enough success.
“There’s only two national titles in the year and obviously the league is one. We haven’t won a title since ’12. Like, Walsh Cup all right, but definitely the league is a good one to win. No matter what you say, it’s still a league medal and it’s one that you’ll have. You’d rather have it than not have it.”
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