Ever since he first burst onto the national stage in 2004 as a precocious talent on the Galway minor side, Joe Canning has been anointed for hurling greatness.
He has accumulated plenty of hurling honors since, attaining All-Ireland glory at club, underage and colleges levels. Yet that last frontier has proved difficult to cross, helping to end the barren spell Galway have endured at the senior grade since 1988.
In over a fortnight, he will finally get an opportunity as he graces an All-Ireland senior decider with his presence for the first time.
Galway’s qualification for their first showpiece in seven years has been founded on an infusion of young talent into their team by manager Anthony Cunningham. Canning is still only 23 but having stockpiled so much experience in recent years, he is something of an elder statesman in the squad these days.
“Yeah, you get one or two grays every now and again after training,” laughs the Portumna clubman, speaking yesterday at a press event ahead of Saturday’s Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21 hurling semi-finals. “But these days don’t come around too often. The Cork game was obviously the first semi-final I ever played with Galway seniors.
“Look at the likes of Damien Hayes and David Collins, Tony Og Regan and Andy Smith – the only four guys who have played at this level before of our panel. For all the underage success it is a huge thing for the rest of the guys.”
Of course there is a serious obstacle that Galway must overcome. A Kilkenny team that issued a formidable statement of intent when destroying Tipperary last Sunday. Galway have already claimed that scalp this year but they parked that game in the aftermath of the Leinster final and Canning insists they will worry more about their own performance rather than their opponents.
“You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t actually think about the opposition. But this thing about trying to counteract them, I don’t believe in it. We have to concentrate on ourselves. and bring our style of play to the game.
“I’m sure Kilkenny won’t be concentrating too much on us. That’s how they’re so successful over the past number of years. We hear it time and again, that they just worry about themselves and getting the performance. Any team that tries to match them, needs to do the same things. It’s very, very hard to try and negate a team like Kilkenny. You can’t.
“You have to do your own thing and, hopefully, that will work. If it doesn’t, fair enough. But you have to be confident in your own ability and belief within the Galway set-up.”