Scanlan played his club hurling with the famus Ahane club in his native village and enjoyed much success. He won three senior county titles with the club in the early 1930s. Scanlan later played hurling with the Liam Mellowes club in Galway.
Scanlan first came to prominence on the inter-county scene in the early 1930s. He made his senior debut for Limerick in 1932 and quickly established himself as the number one goalkeeper for the county. Limerick reached the final of the 1932-1933 National Hurling League, however, Kilkenny emerged victorious on that occasion. Later that same year Scanlan captured his first Munster title following a huge victory over Waterford. In a replay of the league final Limerick later faced Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final. In a close game played in front of 45,000 spectators Kilkenny emerged victorious on a score line of 1-7 to 0-6. In 1934 Scanlan captured his first National League medal following a defeat of Dublin. He later added a second Munster title to his collection following another heavy defeat of Waterford in the provincial decider. The subsequent All-Ireland final turned out to be a repeat of the league final as Limerick took on Dubin. In a tough game both sides finished all square – 2-7 to 3-4. The replay proved to be just as tough, however, Scanlan was replaced by Tom Shinny as goalkeeper. Limerick won the second game; however, Scanlan remained on the substitute’s bench.
In 1935 Scanlan was back on the team as he collected his second National League medal. He later added a third Munster medal to his collection as Limerick trounced Tipperary in the provincial final. The subsequent All-Ireland final saw Limerick take on Kilkenny for the second time in three years. Up until that game Scanlan’s team had remained undefeated in 31 games, however, in a downpour Kilkenny ended that great run on a score line of 2-5 to 2-4. Limerick bounced back in 1936 with Scanlan collecting a third National League title. In a pattern that seemed similar Scanlan later collected a fourth consecutive Munster medal following an eighteen-point defeat of Tipp. In their fourth All-Ireland final appearance in-a-row Limerick took on Kilkenny for the third of those occasions. Limerick had been defeated on the two previous ocacsions, however, the team prevailed in 1936 and Scanlan collected his first All-Ireland medal. In 1937 Scanlan won a fourth National League medal before lining out in the hope of collecting a record-equalling fifth consecutive Munster title. Limerick’s provincial run of success came to an end in the final as Tipp defeated the reigning champions. In spite of this defeat Limerick still maintained their dominance by capturing an unprecedented fifth consecutive National League title in 1938. Two years later in 1940 Limerick were back and Scanlan won his fifth Munster medal following a victory in a replay over Cork. The subsequent All-Ireland final saw the two outstanding teams of the 1930s, Limerick and Kilkenny, do battle in the championship for the final time until 1973. On that occasion Limerick prevailed by 3-7 to 1-7 and Scanalan collected a second All-Ireland medal. He retired from inter-county hurling following Limerick’s defeat in the 1941 championship.
Scanlan also lined out with Munster in the inter-provincial hurling competition. He won his first Railway Cup medal in 1934 as Munster defeated Leinster. Scanlan won three more Railway Cup titles in 1937, 1938 and 1940.