Can­ning right man at the right time to have fi­nal say

Burke may have been the man of the match but Athenry man was the story

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Front Page - Malachy Clerkin

Sights and sounds and scenes. The end of an All-Ire­land fi­nal is of­ten like this. Some­thing hap­pens, usu­ally a for­lorn miss by the chas­ing team or a whipped clear­ance by the one in the lead. And it changes the mood of the place, dous­ing the last flick­er­ing flame of doubt in the minds of the win­ning sup­port­ers. This is when they know.

The clock was drip-drop­ping its way past the 74th minute when Austin Glee­son fought for a ball over by the Cu­sack Stand side­line near the Gal­way 45. The young Water­ford prince had been run­ning in trea­cle all day, not be­ing able to do right for do­ing wrong. Af­ter all the talk over whether he’d miss the fi­nal through sus­pen­sion it turned out he was barely present for it any­way. And when this line ball went against him he swung a boot at the slio­tar in tem­per and ate a few more sec­onds of clock for Gal­way.

That’s when they knew. That’s when the stands started to rise and the roof be­gan to shuck and shake around the old place. And when they saw who was head­ing over to take it the noise even found a sec­ond wind. Surely it couldn’t be so per­fect. Surely Gal­way’s wait for an All-Ire­land couldn’t end with Joe Can­ning hav­ing the fi­nal word on it.

But kismet is as kismet does. Can­ning am­bled over, pre­sum­ably un­able to be­lieve his luck. Gal­way had a three-point cush­ion, and you could tell by the body lan­guage of Fer­gal Hor­gan, the ref­eree, that what­ever Can­ning did here it was go­ing to be the last act of the af­ter­noon. Up in the air went the ball, out wide­spread went the ref’s hands, peep-peep-peeeeep went the whis­tle.

And down on his knees went Can­ning.

Lead­ing scorer

The scream he sent up into the Cu­sack Stand con­tained all the good and all the bad from 10 sea­sons’ toil. Gal­way have played in four All-Ire­land fi­nals since he joined the se­nior panel, in­clud­ing a re­play in 2012. He has been their lead­ing scorer in them all. When they were here in 2005, for an­other los­ing af­ter­noon, he was the top scorer in the mi­nor fi­nal. His fa­ther, Seán, had a heart at­tack in the stands that day. The scenes here were very dif­fer­ent.

“You re­ally want to find the peo­ple who are close to you,” Can­ning told RTÉ Ra­dio on the pitch af­ter­wards, as the cel­e­bra­tions launched around him. “They’re the peo­ple who have put up with the crank­i­ness down through the years. It’s just great for Mam and Dad, re­ally. I stayed away from them in the week com­ing up to the match. You just want them to en­joy the week­end, and be­ing around me in the build-up would be a good job – just nerves and stuff like that.”

Can­ning wasn’t the best player on view, but he wasn’t pe­riph­eral, ei­ther. He scored the open­ing point of the game, af­ter 23 sec­onds, burst­ing on to the ball around the Water­ford 65 and brush­ing off a cou­ple of tack­les – fouls, ac­tu­ally – to swish a set­tler. And although he didn’t con­sume the game whole from there, like we’ve seen him do be­fore, he did his bit.

That’s how it had to be, of course. All those years we watched him try to carry Gal­way to an All-Ire­land, it was only his own in­sis­tent brand of ge­nius that made any­one imag­ine it was even pos­si­ble. But here, when the day of days fi­nally hap­pened, it hap­pened as it must: or­gan­i­cally, piece­meal, the load spread wide and deep.

Can­ning fin­ished the day with nine points from 10 shots. He laced to­gether six frees to keep the score­board mov­ing and popped a cou­ple from play. His one mo­ment of time­less beauty came just short of the half-hour, when Gal­way hadn’t scored for nearly 10 min­utes and Water­ford’s sec­ond goal had lev­elled the game.

Not how but how many

By that stage it didn’t mat­ter that Water­ford didn’t de­serve to be neck and neck: it only mat­tered that they were. They were like a golfer who’d found him­self in a share of the lead by hol­ing out from the fair­way. The game ain’t about how, it’s about how many. And right there and then they had the same how many as Gal­way, even though Gal­way had done more to make it so.

Can­ning put an end to it by am­bling out for a side­line cut un­der the Cu­sack stand. He wasn’t a mil­lion miles from where he would end the game just over an hour later: he had to pull out the 45 flag to make room for his swing. The strike was po­etry, split­ting the posts at the Canal End in a per­fect loop.

David Burke was prob­a­bly man of the match, and the Gal­way de­fence as a unit were prob­a­bly what won it. But Can­ning was the story, lit­tle though he’d like to be thought of as such.

“To me it doesn’t mat­ter too much,” he said. “I don’t think I’m go­ing to be seen any dif­fer­ently by peo­ple who know me. Maybe peo­ple who don’t know me, maybe an All-Ire­land medal is some­thing for them to talk about. But it’s great to have it. I have every medal at in­ter­county level that it’s pos­si­ble to have. So it’s nice to fin­ish off the col­lec­tion.”

Sights and sounds and scenes. The pho­tog­ra­phers tailed his every turn af­ter­wards. They found Joe Con­nolly in the crowd and got him down for a selfie, Liam Mac­Carthy with a Joe on each side. And as the rest of the Gal­way play­ers lined the steps for David Burke’s speech, Can­ning stood down on the pitch with Tony Keady’s daugh­ter, Shan­non, to one side and Micheál Donoghue to the other. A man apart. Fi­nally, a man ful­filled.

I don’t think I’m go­ing to be seen any dif­fer­ently by peo­ple who know me. Maybe peo­ple who don’t know me, maybe an All-Ire­land medal is some­thing for them to talk about

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