Joe Canning has forever written his name into the GAA history books and will go down as one of the game’s greatest ever forwards.
The Galway man has a plethora of inter-county honours to his name, most notably his All-Ireland medal which he won in 2017, the same year Canning was chosen as the Hurler of the Year.
While the 31-year-old didn’t make his senior debut for the Tribesmen until to the Allianz League in 2008, it was a match two year’s previously that announced Canning on the senior stage and stirred up plenty of excitement among the Galway faithful.
Portumna have been notably successful in the club scene over the past 20 years with six Galway titles and four All-Ireland club championships under their belt since 2003.
The club reached their first All-Ireland decider in 2006 when they face Newtownshandrum of Cork and a 17-year-old Joe Canning lined out at corner-forward alongside his brothers, Ivan, Ollie and David. Portumna were underdogs, a relatively unknown side outside of Galway who were going up against a side who had won the title in 2004.
Previously, they had met in a challenge game and the versatile forward immediately caught their eye.
“I remember looking at this young fella at the time, corner-forward, Joe Canning, thinking ‘this guy’… He nailed a sideline in the first half from 40 yards in howling wind and driving rain”, Brendan Mulcahy and Donal Mulcahy of Newtownshandrum told the AIB GAA Club Chronicles.
“That was our introduction to Joe Canning. Obviously we didn’t heed the warning signs.”
By this stage, the teenager had two minor medals to his name which meant he was known to many in the Galway circles but within 10 minutes of this All-Ireland final in a bitterly cold Croke Park, hurling fans all over the country had sat up and taken notice of the youngest Canning brother.
He scored his side’s first goal after just three minutes, weaving around the Newtownshandrum defence and burying the ball past goalkeeper Paul Morrissey. Just three minutes later, he popped up again and turned provider for Niall Hayes to extend Portumna’s lead to seven points.
Throughout the encounter, he caused the Cork side multiple problems, winning frees and bringing others into the game in the forward line. While Newtownshandrum reduced the deficit to just three points before the break, they could not curb the influence of Canning. Despite the bitter and difficult conditions, he nailed frees and placed balls from all over the field.
2006 saw @portumnagaa win the ultimate prize as they overcame @Newtownshandrum to claim the @AIB_GAA Senior Club Hurling All-Ireland title, 2-8 to 1-6! Want this be your #GAAarchive Full Feature Match of the Week? RT to vote yes! pic.twitter.com/8tNctnxSlt
— The GAA (@officialgaa) March 14, 2019
“They came at us hard in the second half, but we managed to keep a few points ahead”, Ollie Canning recalled to The Sports Chronicle.
“Joe nailed some long-range frees, some of them beyond halfway, which gave us some breathing space. As a team you work hard to win frees and when you have someone striking them over against a bitter breeze, it gives the whole team a boost and rewards the hard work.”
Despite the best efforts of revered Cork brothers Ben and Jerry O’Connor, Portumna eventually won the clash on a scoreline of 2-8 to 1-6 with Canning contributing 1-6 of their tally. Fittingly, he scored the final score of the game and to no one’s surprise, he was named man-of-the-match.
Calls were immediately made for Canning to be brought into the Galway senior squad but he, together with the inter-county camp, decided it was better for him to focus on his Leaving Cert and his underage career.
The decision proved a fruitful one. In August 2006, he came off the bench for the Galway U21’s in their All-Ireland semi-final clash against Kilkenny and scored 2-4, though the side eventually lost out to the Cats. The following year, he was back to star for the side as they avenged their disappointment and won the All-Ireland U21 title, beating Dublin in the decider. On the back of that victory, Canning was drafted into the senior set-up for the 2008 season. The rest, as they say, is history.
(Originally published on March 16, 2020).