In the 2014 Munster final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Ruairi Deane tore his cruciate. Four years on, and after coming through a time in 2016 where he contemplated walking away from inter-county football, the Bantry man is determined to have happier memories of Saturday’s final. He spoke to KIERAN McCARTHY
RUAIRI Deane almost walked away from it all.
He was fed up. Frustrated.
It was the winter of 2016 and he stood at a crossroads, contemplating his inter-county future.
He’d made three sub appearances in that year’s championship and added together you’d barely hit the 20-minute mark. Deane was a half-time sub that lasted eight minutes before being black-carded against Tipperary, he came on in the 60th minute in the qualifier against Limerick and the 70th minute against Longford, both times for Alan O’Connor.
It wasn’t much to write home about.
They jury was still out as to whether he could cut it at inter-county level.
He had captained Cork juniors to All-Ireland glory in 2013, scored 2-6 that campaign and was named Munster Junior Footballer of the Year. But it wasn’t happening at senior level. He was more an understudy than a main part. He was hitting his head off a glass ceiling.
‘I was coming to a stage where it was going one way or another,’ he admits.
‘I was either going to say “this is not for me” and I was going to start thinking of something else because I hadn’t really got anywhere with it.
‘Or it was a case of “I’ll give it my all” and see where that takes me.’
‘I wouldn’t say I doubted myself but I wasn’t getting what I wanted out of it so I did question where I was going.’
The Bantry man stepped outside the inter-county bubble and weighed up his options. It was stick or twist, stay or go.
‘I had that talk with myself and with other people as well,’ he says.
‘It’s not all plain sailing. There are ups and downs.
‘For me all I ever wanted to be was a Cork footballer. Being from Bantry you are looking at the likes of Graham Canty and Philip Clifford before him, he was captain of Cork when he was 19.
‘This isn’t a commitment for me, it’s a way of life and I love it – but I did find myself contemplating it for a while.’
The temptation was there to walk away but that was the easy way out. But if he had, there would always haven been this sense of underachievement that would have nagged at him.
‘The big thing for me is I felt I hadn’t achieved what I wanted to,’ he says.
‘The way I am with life, you have to give it your all and if it doesn’t work out then fair enough.
‘I felt I wouldn’t have been satisfied to pack it up with what I’d have given it over four years.’
Deane can’t give an exact reason as to why it took him four years to make his first senior championship start for Cork – it came against Waterford last year and starts followed against Tipperary and Kerry before impressing as a sub against Mayo in the qualifier at the Gaelic Grounds.
Before 2017 there was the total of six championship sub appearances in three seasons (2014-16) that would have struggled to pass 50 minutes in total.
He took his time to establish himself. There were a few reasons for that, he points out.
‘I find there’s a better balance in my own life now, with work, with finance and everything else fell into place outside of football as well,’ the Beara Community School PE teacher says.
‘I started out of the routine of college and into the routine of work and that helped. I could balance my life better, there was finance coming in at long last, I had spent six years in college, four in Tralee and two in UL doing the Masters. That’s a contributing factor.
‘Maturity has played its role as well. I got my own head straight, figured out where I wanted to be, what I wanted to do, and when you have clarity in what you want it helps you get it.
‘I am 26 going on 27, I have been around the panel for five years and this is the first year really where I feel settled into it. There are no injuries.’
Injury-free, Deane’s been flying.
He rivalled Luke Connolly for man-of-the-match in the Munster semi-final win against Tipp. He has established himself in Ronan McCarthy’s starting 15.
But to understand, perhaps, why Deane took so long to announce his arrival at senior level we need to go back to the last Munster football final between Cork and Kerry at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. It was 2014.
He’d never felt pain like it.
He was on the pitch a few minutes as a first-half blood sub when he twisted his knee as he chased Kerry forward James O’Donoghue.
He had torn his cruciate ligament.
His 2014 season was over and it hindered his 2015 campaign too. It wiped out two seasons when he was trying to establish himself with a new-look Cork under Brian Cuthbert.
‘I don’t have a whole pile of memories from that day. It was very short,’ he says.
‘I was called on to be a blood sub, Fintan (Goold) got a bang to the head. I was defending, I went to turn around the 35-yard line, I went over and that was it.
‘Dr Con told me after that before I hit the ground he had the phone-call made to Waterford for Tadhg (O’Sullivan, surgeon).
‘I knew straightaway that there was something serious wrong because I had never felt pain like that before.’
That’s in the past now, he says, he’s moved on. But it did hold him back. It took him time to find his feet again.
Former Carbery divisional manager Gene O’Driscoll, who had Deane on his team, told The Southern Star last year, ‘It’s only now (2017) his confidence is beginning to come back after his cruciate injury. It’s not playing on his mind anymore.’
Deane won’t use his cruciate injury as an excuse for why it’s only in the past two seasons that Cork are starting to see the best of him, but those close to him feel it weighed on his mind and held him back.
It was there, somewhere in his head.
It’s not now. That crossroads he stood at in the winter of 2016 saw him turn a corner.
‘Those questions I asked myself gave me answers as to where I needed to go and to get to where I am,’ he says.
Deane put in a big winter’s training under then manager Peadar Healy. His mind-set changed. He was more determined. 2017 saw an improved Deane. He put in another big winter before this season too and he feels he’s getting the rewards.
Interestingly, a shift in focus from the gym to the ball has also helped.
‘The mind-set a few years ago was that the gym was the be-all and end-all and I might have neglected my football side of things,’ he admits.
‘What I actually needed to be functional at was running up and down the pitch, that’s more important that being able to nail a fella with a shoulder.
‘I probably did neglect certain elements of my training but there is more balance to my approach now. I focus on my skills more, my conditioning, I manage my weight more.
‘There’s still a long journey yet, I’m not the finished article in anyway, I’m changing and developing, I’m not where I want to be yet but hopefully I am on the right path.’
There are a lot of things Deane can’t do.
He can’t play the guitar despite telling The Southern Star last Christmas that it was on his to-do list for 2018.
He can’t sing (but that’s probably a blessing).
He can’t hold a conversation in Irish. Again, this was on his list of targets for this year. (At last week’s press evening in Páirc Uí Rinn, he had to decline a request to hold an interview in Irish).
And, we’ll forgive him here, he doesn’t read newspapers (though we’re reliably informed he’s an avid reader of The Southern Star sports section…).
‘My mother would always have them at home. But I try to stay away,’ he says.
‘I might read up on other teams mainly but in-season you wouldn’t read what’s being written.
‘If we have a bad game people still have to sell newspapers.’
But being a teacher, Deane can’t escape what’s being said.
‘You are going to hear it,’ he admits.
‘I am working in a school and the kids will let you know anyway, but you try not let it get to you too much.
‘Last year I played okay against Mayo for a bit but the game before I was taken off against Kerry. I was useless against Kerry but when you play well against Mayo everyone forgets about what went before.
‘For me it’s all about this Saturday, the Tipp semi-final is gone, all that matters now is Saturday.’
We can’t forget his performance in last month’s win against Tipperary as dismissively as he does. He was immense that day, boss Ronan McCarthy describing him as ‘truly magnificent’.
Deane brought physicality, energy, directness and speed to the Cork team, breaking the line numerous times and sparking the attack. It was the Deane those in Bantry and Carbery have been waiting to see.
‘His best position is to come on to the ball at pace and take people on. He is happiest when he is going at people, he is strong on the burst,’ Gene O’Driscoll said before.
Deane’s not one for taking praise though. It’s all about the next game, and that’s Kerry on Saturday at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
It’s four years on from their last meeting there, and Deane’s injury, but he’s not looking back anymore.
‘After the Tipp game, as a collective there was a huge sense of achievement, that we had set a marker as to what we are about,’ he says.
‘People came up to me after, my family were delighted, friends were too. Did I know I played alright? I did. But there is no point dwelling on that. It will be forgotten very quick if things go wrong on Saturday.
‘Is there better to come? Hopefully. Can I guarantee it? I can’t.
‘Talk to me after Saturday.’