Joe wary of Dub ambush
Early All-Ireland favourites' tag is only 'bull', says Galway talisman
This is strange terrain for Joe Canning. In all his time as a Galway hurler, they have never been favourites for Liam MacCarthy.
Even when they qualified for the All-Ireland of 2012, or ahead of that year's replay, or when they reached the final again in 2015, they were always second fiddle in the betting to an odds-on Kilkenny.
Now it's May 2017, the Tribesmen have yet to puck a championship ball … and they're top of the pile. Cork's weekend ambush of Tipperary, catapulting the holders into choppy 'back door' waters, has ensured as much.
Boylesports will offer you just 3/1 on a Galway coronation, something that hasn't happened for 29 years.
No wonder, then, that Canning is wary of All-Ireland predictions on the strength, largely, of one Allianz League final trouncing of Tipp.
He is just as cautious about next weekend. He has history with the Dubs, not all of it sugar-coated.
"No matter who you're playing, you're always worried," stresses Canning, his focus refusing to wander beyond Sunday's Leinster SHC quarter-final in Tullamore (4.0).
"And I think that comes with being a sportsperson. You could never go into anything 100 per cent sure this is going to happen … that's the beauty of sport, you don't know what will happen on any given day.
"And down through the years, especially the last number of years, there hasn't been much between us. Like, 2015, when we played here (in Croke Park), Dublin should have beaten us that day. Without a doubt.
"And we got a few goals in the replay and won the game. But apart from that, they beat us well in a Leinster final (in 2013). And other days we've beaten them. So there's been good games between us over the last number of years, and it will be the same on the 28th."
Even the venue - O'Connor Park - holds radically divergent memories for Galway's forward talisman when pitched against the Sky Blues.
Back in 2011, Dublin survived an early cruciate ligament rupture (Tomás Brady) and a second half red card (Ryan O'Dwyer) to win a Leinster semi-final by 0-19 to 2-7. Even the tonic of a trademark Canning goal, inside seven minutes, couldn't save Galway.
Yet when the two sides renewed Tullamore combat for a 2012 NHL relegation play-off, Canning was the one-man saviour in maroon.
Returning from a shoulder injury lay-off, he cast aside a scoreless first half to amass an incredible ten second half points (six from play), forcing extra-time at the death. His comeback haul had reached a dozen after 20 extra minutes but failed to separate the sides, whereupon Galway won the Portlaoise replay.
Another replay - back in Tullamore, two summers ago - is the game most likely to be referenced now. This was another Leinster quarter-final that started in an avalanche of Galway scores (a Cathal Mannion hat-trick inside 11 minutes, 3-10 to 0-1 after just 19 minutes) and finished in a 5-19 to 1-18 whimper for the Tribesmen.
Canning, who plundered 2-3 from play that evening, recalls: "Only the week before they should have beaten us (in Croke Park). It was a totally different game. We were lucky enough in a way - some of the goals dropped in over our heads and it was a flick (to the net).
"It was a strange one - It wasn't a true reflection of Dublin," he expands.
"I think Cathal got three goals in 10 minutes or something, and you don't see that happen very often. We'd take that the next day as well, obviously."
Yet it's equally apparent that he's not expecting a repeat.
For all the recent downbeat talk about Ger Cunningham's callow collection - what with player omissions, defections and relegation from Division 1A - this St Patrick's Day veteran is adamant that the return of their Cuala crew, freshly minted medals in tow, will do wonders for Dublin confidence.
"That's a huge proportion of your panel on a high after winning a club All-Ireland," Canning points out.
"They're obviously under the radar for the last number of weeks," he adds, "so that's always a dangerous animal."
All Galway can do, he reasons, is to try and make their unstoppable best (a la Dublin in 2015, or Tipp in this year's league final) less sporadic and more like the norm.
"We have always had potential," Canning reflects. "Galway have always had good forwards, no matter what."
But until they marry that to ultra-consistency, talk of All-Ireland favouritism will be ignored. "Inside the camp it's the same, we realise that a lot of that is bullshit really," he says.
"People lose the run of themselves after 70 minutes of a hurling match.
"You see it last year - I don't think any other team would have beaten Waterford after two semi-finals other than Kilkenny.
"Then they lose the All-Ireland to Tipperary and everybody writes them off. Perspective is lost a lot of the time. I'd rather judge a team on five or six matches rather than one.
"People can lose the run of themselves; we realise that. Certainly the older guys do anyway because we've been around for a while and have seen that happen in the past ...we won't be thinking that we're better than anyone else."
Including, for now, Dublin.