To watch Joe Canning hurl is to witness sporting genius
In the light of another hurling masterclass by Joe Canning, the boy wonder of Portumna (sadly, at De La Salle’s expense), I was compelled to pick up Val Dorgan’s biography of Christy Ring.
Ring, like many a GAA player since, didn’t have too much time for inquisitive types with column inches to fill.
In fact, he managed to give sportswriters an even wider berth than the many backs that clung to his coat tails during the 24 years he hurled for his beloved Cork.
But towards the end of his illustrious playing career, Ring became, by his standards, somewhat relaxed with the press. Like many a Rebel before and since, the Glen Rovers legend had plenty to say, virtually none of it dull.
Writes Dorgan: “On one occasion, a journalist travelled from Dublin for an interview and he was amazed to find Ring openly discussing a whole serious of contentious issues, producing headlines by the minute.
“The young reporter’s dilemma about which scoop to write first was resolved when Ring rounded off the session with his usual reminder that it was all off the record.”
Ring, a name never far from the lips of anyone who loves hurling, is now frequently mentioned in the same breath as that of the 20-year-old Galway man’s.
Older readers may feel I’ve got the order of that last sentence skew-ways, and until such time as Canning has eight All-Ireland inter-county medals like Ring, they may well have a point.
But anyone lucky enough to witness this young man hurl in the flesh are destined, in their dotage, to regale their grandchildren with tales of the great Joe Canning as earlier generations did of Ring.
Like Ring, Canning has an aversion to those who “talk shit”, as Jamie O’Keeffe referenced in our All-Ireland Club Final special a fortnight ago.
And let’s face it, journalists spout more nonsense than most, dispensing the sort of guff which “wrecks my head” according to Canning himself.
We’ve yet to see Canning break bread with Tom Humphries or Vincent Hogan, but if and when he does, you, I and many more will gobble it up. But that particular expose might be some while off yet.
And again, one must refer to Dorgan’s seminal work on Ring to draw a comparison with Canning, whose talent threatens to dwarf any who came before him. Even Ring.
“But perhaps the principle reason Ring did not give interviews was because he must have felt that whatever else he did publicly could not compare to the way he hurled.
“He often claimed: ‘I did my talking with the hurley’.”
For now, the same can be said of Canning, who drew gasps from the Croke Park crowd on Saint Patrick’s Day, leaving De La Salle’s defence bewildered on several occasions.
The ease with which he lifted a ball from the deck by tapping it against his boot and onto his stick was a joy to behold.
For only the second time in my decade covering GAA, I witnessed a display I know I’ll happily recall years from now, when holding court with anyone willing to listen, that is!
The other was Ken McGrath’s in the epic 2004 Munster Final, when the Mount Sion man famously leapt through a mass of outstretched Cork arms to claim the ball and steer Waterford towards victory.
But Canning is unlike any hurler I’ve ever seen. He is not only a wonderful individual talent with no readily evident weakness, but he is a superb linkman, frequently putting team mates into scoring positions.
He drifts away from the ‘red zone’ to win the ball, picks off frees from inside his own 65 with consummate ease and is already established as one of the finest sideline cutters of this or any generation.
Canning appears to be the complete hurler, whose best days may yet be five or six years away – a thoroughly fascinating prospect.
‘May you live in interesting times’ reads the Chinese proverb. Thanks to Joe Canning, anyone who loves hurling couldn’t be living in a more fascinating era. For, like Ring before him, Canning is, undisputedly, a hurling genius.
Music in mouth, poetry in motion, Joe Canning ticks every box. And observing how his legend shall grow ought to prove one of the greatest privileges of my professional life.
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