Joe Canning's actions when Galway were dead and dusted are part of what makes him great
"Joe was an expert on periodic brilliance."
That was Ger Loughnane's take on Joe Canning in his early days with the Galway senior squad.
On Sunday, a decade after he made his senior debut, there was brilliance again but sustained over a rousing comeback in the final. Canning's free-taking was not as accurate as it should be but when Galway looked dead and buried, it was he that sparked a pulse.
Canning contributed 0-4 in a first half when both sides combined for 21 wides. We were getting a slow-burner but Limerick then set the fuse after the break and rattled off four points without reply to go eight clear.
There was still plenty of time on the clock but Canning came to life and rallied his teammates by his actions.
On 50 minutes, with Limerick looking to wrench the life out of their opponents, Gearoid McInerney snatched the ball from between a clatter of legs and found Pádraic Mannion on his outside shoulder.
Mannion advanced, drew in a man and flicked a hand-pass to Galway's No.11. Three strides from Canning, once glance at the posts and a lovely point from play. He added another, minutes later, and this game was not won yet.
Lovely score by Joe Canning! pic.twitter.com/rjVI4rLhUj
— The GAA (@officialgaa) August 19, 2018
It certainly looked to be heading the way of Limerick when, after 54 minutes, Tom Morrissey took advantage of an Adrian Tuohy error and pelted one past James Skehill in the Galway goal. Canning raged against the Treaty machine with another fine point after a one-two from a sideline cut.
When Shane Dowling proved to be a super-sub, again, with a 68th minute goal, that lead had ballooned back out to eight.
Conor Whelan, who had been subdued up until that point, gave Galway hope with a goal early in injury time that told everyone in Croke Park there would be no early exits to beat the queues. This one was going to the wire.
Limerick then conceded a 21-yard free and Canning strode forward. Everyone in the ground sensed he would go for goal. Nickie Quaid but two teammates on either side of him. Canning's only chance looked to be making a crisp connection and finding a top corner. That he did.
GOAL! What a finish by Joe Canning! pic.twitter.com/Ai4VSDzlZp
— The GAA (@officialgaa) August 19, 2018
Sportsfile captured the moment Canning's howitzer bulged the net (below).
The power and placement was spot on.
Niall Burke's score then made it a one-point game before Graeme Mulcahy swelled Limerick's lead back to two.
Canning had another free on 77 minutes and had the option of dropping it in around the square or taking a point and hoping referee James Owens would allow Galway one final phase of play to level it. The Portumna man took his point and his faith in Owens paid off.
One final free but, with the angle, nigh on 80 metres for Canning to take the final to extra time. "It's up to Joe now," Marty Morrissey told RTE's rapt viewership.
Two big, deep breaths and a slice of his blade but the connection was not as pure as Canning would have hoped. It was on the very limit of his range but, given the player, moment and championship summer we've had, you would not have put it past him.
But Canning knew. His face gave away what we would all see, seconds later.
The free dropped short and Limerick held on. The demons of 1994 exorcised and a 45-year wait put aside.
A third losing final to add to his, and Galway's, victory last September. Well-intentioned as they were, each of those three hip-hooray cheers, initiated by Limerick captain Declan Hannon, would have stung.
On the Sunday game, hours after Hannon had raised Liam MacCarthy and both sides had went their separate ways, Jackie Tyrrell told The Sunday Game:
"I know Joe Canning got Player of the Year last year, but I think he was even better this year."
He did, and he was.
The brilliance was there for all to see this summer but it was not enough.
For 30 minutes in the second half Joe Canning was at his very limit; his very best. Not for nothing is this man called a legend.