Ollie Canning has revolutionised corner back play with his daring, cavalier style of play and there appears to be little doubt among Hurling connoisseurs that the number four slot is his optimum position. But is he under-utilised when selected to operate there? In the modern era, many top Hurling managers have chosen dogged, focussed and tight-marking hurlers to man the team’s corner back positions and such a tactic has earned several of them considerable success. Therefore, would Canning’s undoubted class be put to better use in a more influential, skill-orientated position? Although his primary function was to mark Eoin Kelly when the Tipperary wizard moved out to the ’40’ in the All-Ireland quarterfinal of 2005, Canning looked at home in the centre half back position. In recent times, the Galway management team have tried many talented hurlers in this key defensive position but none of these players have looked wholly comfortable when asked to ‘hold the centre’.
Canning’s positional sense, determination, first touch and speed of the mark ensure that he has the makings of a top class number 6 and perhaps he is worth an extended run in this problematic position of Galway’s. One may be forgiven for thinking that Canning’s versatility is restricted to playing defensive roles but such is most definitely not the case. He has starred as both a midfielder and a centre half forward with Galway kingpins, Portumna, and those who have witnessed him play for his club have few doubts that he could play exceptionally well in either of these positions for the County team. Indeed, both of these spots really do provide him with the scope to exert a major influence on a game’s proceedings while there is also a school of thought that suggests the Tribesmen could do with Canning’s experience and leadership qualities in the ‘middle third of the field’. It must also be stated that Canning began his Senior inter-county career as a skilful corner forward, thus there is no risk that he will suffer a nosebleed if asked to play so high up the pitch! In fact, Canning received the Man of the Match award after his goal-scoring exploits helped Galway capture the 2000 National Hurling League title, which more than proves that he can cut the mustard as a top-level attacker. Indeed, when one considers that he now understands the mentality of an inter-county defender, Canning would certainly be capable of using his ‘insider knowledge’ to capitalise on the frailties of said opponents. A truly adaptable hurler, it is obvious that Ollie Canning can operate in any of the aforementioned positions. But where would you play him?