Ollie Canning has played senior club championship hurling for more than 20 years, and with six county senior medals and four All-Ireland club medals in his collection, he knows what it takes to win on big championship days.
Along with the majority of the current team, Canning also lost county finals in 2004 and 2006, and that will only impress upon the squad the need to arrive at Kenny Park next Sunday with their top game on show.
The Portumna team captain says they will be using all that experience to produce a high quality performance to get past a revved up and talented Gort outfit, which is going for its first title since 2011.
Despite all the success, Canning still remains as enthusiastic as ever, and is looking forward to returning to championship action in Sunday’s clash with Gort. However it is difficult to guage current form given the delay in the championship, he says.
“It is a very long time since we played Craughwell in the county semi-final and we have only played two league matches since then. With most counties finished their own championships and county teams not in action either, good challenge games are very hard to get.
"It has been difficult to plan and prepare for a county final when we did not know when we were playing. The delay did seem to go on for a very long time.
“But we are where we are, and we hope we are going well. Mike Monaghan [manager] and Noel Larkin [coach] have worked really hard with us over the past few months to try to keep us fresh and focussed, and we will need to be both this Sunday.”
Canning says Portumna will need to hit the ground running.
“Gort did very well against Beagh for long periods and it is an advantage to them that they played championship hurling two weeks ago. They know their form, whereas we are unsure of ours. We will need to start well and not find ourselves behind after the first 20 minutes. Thankfully we have no injuries, and have a full squad to pick from which is a big plus, especially as we are down some very talented men from last year’s squad due to retirement.”
The current All-Ireland champions are strong favourites with Mulhollands at 8/15, and they have some quality players in their side.
Joe Keane is a quality goal-keeper and he will most likely be protected down the middle by Conor O’Hare at full-back and Galway panellist last year Martin Dolphin, who is normally positioned at number six this season.
Andy Smith, who had a storming game in last year’s victory over Loughrea, has recovered from injury and it will be interesting to see where he lines out in three days.
Former All-Star Damien Hayes is likely to be around the engine room and up front Mike Monaghan, who was a selector last season with Frank Canning, will be looking for big performances from Joe Canning, Ronan O’Meara, Kevin Hayes, Niall Hayes and his captain, on-field leader Ollie Canning.
The Portumna team is expected to be announced tonight (Thursday ), and few changes are likely from the side that just overcame Loughrea in the quarter-finals and Craughwell in the semi-final.
“We know Sunday will be a really tough game and both sides are eager to finish the year on a high. Whichever team produces the goods on the day will collect the Tom Callanan Cup and that is the challenge facing both sides. Hopefully it will be a high quality game, and let the best team win.”