The Joe Canning debate has simmered of late, come off the boil.
Five consecutive starts at centre-forward, allied to the rich vein of form of those operating closer to goal - Conor Whelan, in particular - has everyone content.
Selector Francis Forde, though, knows Galway are only one defeat away from old arguments being tossed back into the conversation. It’s been happening almost every year on repeat since Canning joined senior set-up in 2008.
Full-forward was where he made his name but when the tide goes against Galway and the supply lines dry up, the whinging and moaning begins that the three-time All Star is being wasted inside and should be deployed to the half-forward line. On the other hand, if Joe is out the field and the inside fowards aren’t clicking, there is fury he’s not around the danger zone.
And that’s before they even begin to assess whether Canning’s contribution was up to scratch.
Forde, as is the case with the vast majority of hurling folk out west, is a keen admirer of Canning’s work. The former was involved with the Galway U14s as a coach in the early noughties and threw himself in corner-back on one particular evening when there was an uneven number for a training game. For company was a 13-year old Canning. Forde recalls being taken for at least six points.
“If we could get Joe at full-forward and be certain that we get loads of ball into him, sure any team would love to have him full-forward. But there’s only one Joe,” says Forde.
“There’s been an element of trying to get him on the ball as much as possible, but there’s also been an element you can’t be leaving it to Joe Canning to take on that mantle all the time. What we’ve done is challenged other players to step up on their performance. We analyse games and sometimes we have to be direct enough with guys in terms of performances not being good enough or needing to show more leadership.
“Joe is a super fella in terms of his attitude and everything he does. He goes wherever he has to go for the team. Do you remember that pass to Jason Flynn for the goal chance against Dublin, Joe was playing wing-forward at that time. But look, at the end of the day, this is a team game.”
Others, to be fair, have done what is being asked of them by Micheál Donoghue’s management. Take their opening two championship performances and their concluding two fixtures in the league, Conor Whelan has struck 0-19 from play, Conor Cooney has notched 2-7, Jason Flynn has produced 3-3 and 1-8 for Cathal Mannion. You need everyone to step up,” Forde continues.
“You’ll always have that debate about where is best for Joe. The next game we lose, it’ll go back to that debate; that Joe should have been full- forward or Joe should have been midfield or whatever it is. All these things get put aside if you win a few games and all these things come back if you lose a game or two, given the level of analysis out there at the moment. Everyone wants to find the reason you lost the match.”
This sort of analysis, if you could even call it that, doesn’t sit well with the former Galway forward.
“Maybe, Joe becomes an easy target if things aren’t going well. In Galway, we have a support who are crying out for a bit of success. Outside of the group, if things don’t go right, they want someone or something to blame. When it does go down the route of blaming an individual player or making it personal, you don’t need that. That’s not analysis. That’s just somebody having a cheap shot.
“This is a team sport and if things go well for your team, everything is right. You might fall the wrong side of a result, like the Tipperary game last year. We didn’t look at that game and say, we lost it because Joe got injured. It is never one issue. Even now, people are looking for how are Galway suddenly playing better. I can’t put my finger on it. We just look for 1% here or 2% there. There’s no magic formula,wish there was.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved