Joe Canning: 'I'll never be 100 per cent after injuries'
By John Harrington
Galway hurler Joe Canning turned 32 yesterday and says a little ruefully, “it’s not a number you want to be thinking about.”
It might not appear obvious to the naked because he still plays with his customary elan for the Galway hurlers, but he admits himself the wear and tear of 13 senior inter-county seasons has taken a toll on the body.
And, as he prepares himself for Galway’s Leinster Championship semi-final against Wexford on October 31st, he's in a phase of his career where he’s trying to extract the maximum from a body that will never be quite strong as it was before he suffered a couple of bad injuries in recent seasons.
"No, to be honest, it's never going to be 100% right,” says Canning. “I suppose in the last few years I've had two serious operations on my left leg, so I tore the hamstring off the bone in 2016 and then tore the groin adductor off the bone last year. So that's all my left leg and I've a lot of imbalances I suppose throughout my body.
"It's like, if you break a hurl and fix it back together, yeah it's fixed. But is it the same?
“No, it's not. So I don't think anybody is 100% in coming back from injury, especially at my age. I'm not a 21 or 22-year-old anymore. I'm plus 10 of that so when you get to that, it's a lot harder to recover after sessions.
"I'm the best I can be at the moment and I'm looking forward to it. I'm feeling good, I'm feeling myself but I'd never be 100%, and if you are 100%, you're not giving it everything in training because you're holding back. It is really a combat sport so you're going to get belt.
"If you train hard enough, you're always going to pick up little niggly injuries. I'm trying to recover as best I can and give it 100% every day you go out but as I said, you're never 100%. Unless you're hiding in training."
There might be an accumulated physical toll of playing at the highest level for as long as he has, but it’s never felt like an excessive drain mentally.
“I grew up with it so I suppose I was lucky enough to have Ollie playing before me and I kind of knew what he went through,” he says.
"It's changed since, in the last number of years. Every year is probably different and is probably more demanding. When I started out, training with Galway was way different than what it is now. Even what you have to do away from training and the culture around it is a lot different now.
"No, I've enjoyed it. I sound like I'm about to retire or something but no, I've enjoyed the last whatever it was. This is 12 or 13 years now or something like that.
"There are times when you're not winning and stuff like that, and losing a lot of matches. But that's just human nature. You might think you might give up on things but there's always better days ahead."
Canning also puts his mental freshness down to an ability to disconnect from the game.
He might be defined by hurling in the public’s eye, but he has never regarded himself as a hurling obsessive.
"No, I don't think I was ever totally obsessed with it. I would have always had better interests, business interests and stuff. Trying to get away from hurling whenever I'm not training. I would have always been conscious that I could never be 24/7 switched onto hurling.
"That's just not my personality because I think I'd fall out of love, to be able to do it. There's lots of people who aren't in a position to do what we do, week in, week out. Definitely, it's a thing where I wouldn't be obsessed with it as such.
"I would have always, not taken it lightly, but when I'm on, we're on and when I'm off, we're off. So I would have always had a healthy balance at times. And at other times, I'd be thinking about games and stuff like that."
He’s looking forward to getting back into action with Galway, but the absence of inter-county hurling for the past seven months hasn’t left a vacuum in his life he has struggled to fill.
As someone with an entrepreneurial spirit and a number of business interests, he’s been busy adapting how he works in a time of Covid.
"It's been challenging business-wise obviously,” says Canning. “Even with the hurley business at home, with sport being finished for a long time and people in lockdown, very challenging, but I think we did ok and I think there were parents picking up hurls and ordering for kids to get out and about in the back garden. So that wasn't too bad.
"The restaurant has been good with Camile [Thai], we've been very lucky with takeaways and stuff. And the bar obviously closed down as well in Athlone. It opened again for two weeks but closed down again.
"So there's been lots of things - ups and downs in the last few months, have your head scratching. But what can you do? Been busy, especially with the hurling and Camile. We've managed to stay relatively good so we've been lucky that way.
"I haven't been twiddling my thumbs for the last few months. I've had other interests, apart from sport and business so I've been lucky that way to keep occupied and keep my mind off things."
Canning and his fellow inter-county players will hopefully soon do the country a service by locking horns in championship action which should help take our minds off the streses of the current health crisis.
It’ll be a different experience to watch the matches on TV for supporters more accustomed to travelling them, and Canning anticipates it will be just as strange for the players to have to do battle without a packed stadium roaring them on.
“I think definitely you play off the crowd,” he says. “I don't know many players that wouldn't play off the crowd to a certain point.
“Like, if you get a good score or get a goal, the roar of the crowd gives you an extra little bit and if you concede a goal, the roar of the crowd is harsher on you.
“The crowd plays a huge part in games. Even if you missed a score, the crowd go 'awh', you'd hear a sound right throughout the stadium.
“With that not there, the success isn't as successful and the missing part isn't as bad. So the good isn't as good and the bad isn't as bad. That's the way I'd feel over the last while playing with the club.
“The crowds weren't there, we lost a couple of matches and you're not there for the extra little bit of people giving out to you after the match straight away with the crowds and stuff or if you win, the back slapping going off the pitch isn't there, so it does play a huge part.
“Maybe being a free taker it's a little bit more for me because I know when i'm taking a free, you'd hear some guy in the stand trying to put you off. Then if you miss, you'd hear 40,000 of the other supporters telling you that it was a good wide!”