How do you define an era in a sport? In a time frame like a decade? The composition of a team, whether team sport or manager? Sometimes the stored trophies can be the measure. Or it can simply be a player. His or her time.
or Galway Hurling, the last decade and a little bit more wrapped up neatly as Joe Canning’s time. There have been other elements in Galway’s rise and fall since those early days in 2008 when he became a full senior. But through the lens of history, Canning’s name will be indelibly linked to it.
No other figure, not even Henry Shefflin, who now heads the county as a Kilkenny player, will carry that unique bond into the future. Shefflin had competing forces: Brian Cody, defensive axis Tommy Walsh-JJ Delaney, and the overall strength of the team. But Canning stood taller than everyone else.
His departure leaves a void. Even his final act was an extraordinary effort to try and salvage something from an otherwise disastrous qualifier against Waterford last summer. And they almost did.
Galway Hurling has slowly moved away from the successful 2017-2018 team that had its source in the 2015 All-Ireland final loss to Kilkenny and those three epic All-Ireland semi-finals with Tipperary in 2015-2017.
And like Tipperary, they’re looking for a new path to take after standout numbers are gone and a league raises as many questions as answers.
For Shefflin, the task at Galway has always been to lead them into a new era. If there has been criticism of the governments of Micheal Donoghue and even Shane O’Neill, it is because change has been too slow. But that’s always easier to see in hindsight.
In addition to Canning, Aidan Harte has also resigned, Adrian Tuohey is out of the squad due to injury.
As of 2017, John Hanbury, Colm Callanan and Johnny Glynn are absent, with nine leaving the starting crew five years ago. Niall Burke, who came on that day, was last left out of a 34-man squad, as was Seán Loftus.
Long-term injuries to Shane Cooney and Jason Flynn have exacerbated staffing problems. David Burke and Johnny Coen are in their thirties and are no longer top picks in midfield.
No wonder, then, that among the top league sides, Galway used 35 players in five league games, around 70 of which have been tested in pre-season overall since the appointment of current management.
It’s an extensive trawl and there have been some strong indications. Ronan Glennon, younger brother of Davy who is now at Westmeath, was a revelation in midfield alongside Joseph Cooney, playing all five games and scoring 10 points.
Tommy Monaghan has also done well, as has Tiernan Killeen and Leaving Cert student Gavin Lee – neither of whom are expected to start. Killeen, Lee and another current panel member, Greg Thomas, were all part of the 2020 All-Ireland Minor winning team, the last of the four in a row. Her completion was quick and underscores the necessity of what Shefflin is doing.
In truth, however, despite all the experimentation, the Galway team’s selection for Saturday afternoon’s game against Wexford may have been straightforward, with perhaps just one attacking spot in question to see who joins Monaghan, Conor Cooney, Cathal Mannion, Conor Whelan and Brian Concannon .
They’ve had a couple of sobering days in the last three months, the Walsh Cup defeat to Dublin at Parnell Park and the League third round defeat to Wexford. But there was also nourishment, how they competed with Limerick and their determination to beat Clare on the final day with nothing at stake.
Who will take more leadership now that Canning is gone? The appointment of Dáithí Burke as captain was one of Shefflin’s key early moves, while Joseph Cooney’s adjustment to midfield as a new senior partner also suggests more of him. Conor Cooney will hope to execute on form at club level, while fellow St Thomas’ Fintan Burke has all the elements needed to become a central figure. Inevitably, Mannion, Whelan and Concannon from the inside line will try to cover up some of the missing magic.
Not for the first time, however, a lack of targets is registered as a concern. It wasn’t 2017, of course, when they spent their final 300 minutes of championship action without a goal and were still crowned champions.
They’ve gotten stronger since then, but not more consistently. In the 2019 round robin, they lost one of the three spots, eight points behind Dublin, who they defeated in the final round at Parnell Park. In that campaign Galway scored 4-84 against Dublin’s 7-84. Three goals difference.
In 2020 they drew gaps in the league games they lost to Kilkenny and Galway and in the league just ended they failed to score against Limerick, Wexford, Cork and Clare after scoring four after Offaly.
Galway’s Leinster schedule is relatively friendly despite an opening game away from home, with what could be easier games against Westmeath and Laois sandwiched between their games against Wexford, Kilkenny and Dublin. Three home games give them an extra advantage.
Making it past the round robin is a must, and a changing of the guard will not isolate failure. But the expectation graph will not be much higher than in the first year of a new era.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/gaelic-games/hurling/life-after-joe-canning-galways-new-leaders-now-beginning-to-emerge-41555319.html Life after Joe Canning – Galway’s new leaders are now emerging