sideline chat

Ollie Canning (43) Portumna Hurling Club and former Galway hurler

At what age did you start playing? Probably around four on the family farm at home and around seven with my national school in Gortanumera. Once you went into national school and started to play ‘real’ hurling games, you had to learn and understand team positions etc. Before that it was just running around like a crazy young lad chasing a sliotar.

Do you remember your first game? Not my first game particularly, but I do remember winning a National Schools county final with Gortanumera when I was about eight years old. It was only seven a-side teams, but at that age it was a pretty big deal.

What is your ideal position (aside from No 4 ) and why? I always liked No 6, centre back. It was a position where you could read the game and you were nearly always involved in the play. I played there at underage and for a number of years with Portumna at senior level also.

Who inspired you? My parents and family inspired and encouraged me from an early age. Some of the Galway players I looked up to when I was young were the great Joe Cooney and Seán Treacy. Seán was from our own club in Portumna and had many outstanding displays in the Galway jersey over the years, winning two All Stars during his career. Seán really gave all the young players coming through the underage structure in Portumna something to aspire to.

Did you also aspire to play at the top level? As my hurling developed from a young age, I was lucky enough to be selected for the Galway U14 team. That was the first time I pulled on the Galway jersey and played for Galway against other counties in a serious competition. Being selected for a Galway team gave me a huge sense of achievement and I was very aware that I was representing my club Portumna also. That first experience in the Galway colours gave me the drive and encouragement to keep working on my game and try to make the Galway teams going forward.

What do you particularly like about your sport? My family always encouraged us to play hurling, and for the whole family to be involved made the game a big part of our lives. As I got older and matured, the whole team, panel, and management dynamic was always very interesting to me. I tried to remain open to learning about myself and others from the experiences I had during my time playing the game. The sense of competition between two teams and two individuals marking each other was also something that drove my focus and attention during my career.

Greatest influence/role model? My parents were always a source of encouragement when we were young without ever pushing us too hard. Growing up, our house had an environment of support and encouragement. This is what all kids need to find their own way in sport.

Biggest challenge to date? Dealing with the fact that your body can’t go on forever. Hurling is a very physical game and it does take a toll on your body over time with the constant training. Sometimes the mind is willing, but the body just can’t follow!

Greatest success/achievement, or most memorable? Winning our first county senior hurling title with Portumna in 2003. It was a brilliant breakthrough for our club, having been competitive for the previous number of years, but just not getting there. To finally get over the line and claim a senior hurling title for the first time in our club’s history was something very special to be involved in.

Favourite memories? My three favourite memories are the 2003 county final win with Portumna, our first All-Ireland Club Championship final win in Croke Park with Portumna in 2006, and witnessing the 2017 All Ireland Hurling final win for Galway after many years trying.

Fiercest opponent/s? During my Galway Senior Hurling career, Kilkenny were extremely strong and contained some of the greatest hurlers to ever play the game. We did beat them on a few occasions, but we also took some heavy losses over the years. They had a serious combination of skill, physicality and experience that you don’t often find in a team.

What are your strengths/weaknesses?On the hurling field I always tried to read the play in an effort to predict where the ball might break or where the ball might be delivered. I also had a bit of speed to help me recover when I made mistakes! On the negative side, if I was two or three inches taller, it would have helped me in the full back line!

If not playing hurling, what sport would you want to play?Golf might take up a little bit more of my spare time going forward. It’s a game that I would like to get better at and it’s also a nice social outlet to meet up with friends.

What do you do to relax? I always found it fairly easy to switch off when not hurling, and feel now looking back it was good for me to do so. Taking the dog for a walk, going for a run, or just spending down time with my wife and family helps me relax. Enjoying an evening out with friends in one of the many beautiful restaurants in Galway is always a winner in my book too.

Best/worst aspect of lockdown. I feel the best aspect is that it probably has given people a chance to slow down and consider their lifestyle in general, both their home life and their work life. Sometimes we need space to clear our minds and consider what we are doing and why we are doing it instead of running from one thing to the next. Having a chance to stop, think and evaluate what we are doing can be very beneficial to ourselves, our families and our friends. The worst aspect of the lockdown was not being able to have any close contact with our parents and family members.


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