IN the first half of the Limerick game a few weeks ago Ruairí Deane lost the ball over on the left wing.
Brian Hurley had already put the game to bed at that stage and if there might have been a temptation to ease off and let that move drift, Deane immediately put on the turbo charge, chased down a turnover, burst through a tackle and moved the ball on again for another Cork attack.
The Limerick player looked shattered, struck by the reality of inferiority, that there was little he could do in that moment once Deane had decided what he wanted. Deane was awesome and relentless and it was the sort of performance that stamped a personality on a team. If Hurley added the killer finishing, Deane set the template for the kind of hard-running, high tempo team Ronan McCarthy would like to develop here.
It's becoming the performance level we expect from him by now. He was as influential against Tipp last year, running the show with power and willingness to carry ball and was involved in everything. There was the opening ten minutes against Kerry, those two goal assists which captured everything about his remarkable raw physicality, where he could fetch a high ball and run past tackles and really there was nothing the defenders could do to stop it happening.
When Cork desperately needed a win in this year's league he made that tough support run and banged a goal in Thurles and he followed up with the same run to set up a goal against Donegal. If you were being picky you could note that the Limerick performance came against a lower-level county and that the top four or five teams won't be quite so comfortable to walk through (I actually wrote ‘too easy' on my game notes after one particular run from Deane where he just burst past two or three defenders like they weren’t there).
But still, he was involved in absolutely everything. He set up the two goals for Hurley with clever awareness. He scored the third, his willingness to run beyond the ball to make holes and then the ball skills to execute a neat dummy and finish. He was in the move for several other scores, fetched a kick-out with the sort of jump that drew cheers and yeah, just dominated the game from the middle.
He has become as important to this Cork side as any individual right now, in the sense that one, Peter Keane can't ignore his threat and two, Cork’s play with the ball won’t function as effectively if he is shut down.
Point to note – it will be tougher for Deane to find or make the spaces to be as influential in Munster finals or super eights. Point to note two - it's almost impossible to close off the spaces for a full game, Deane is bound to get a proper run at a defence at some stage and he doesn't need much room to turn a one-v-one into an overload.
Key factors? Cork getting other runners working with Deane to make combinations (that he can pop passes and go again and isn't isolated) and making sure he's breaking tackles inside the oppositions 45 and not his own.
This sort of adaptation comes naturally to Ruairí Deane anyway. There was a long old time where this level of importance seemed unlikely, where it seemed more probable that Deane would fall into that category of promising youth and U21 players who had a few run-outs at senior level but could never move beyond sub or squad player.
There was an interesting question and answer type chat with Deane from back in 2013 where he had just won an All-Ireland junior medal and one of the questions was about ambitions for the future. Deane mentioned his club where maybe a lot of guys would have referenced intercounty glory and it took a few years of injury and lack of impact to reassess the ambitions.
Deane went away and did everything possible in a 100 percent, no regrets kind of mentality – just basically living the life of an intercounty athlete, extra purposeful training, diet, etc. He stepped up.
He was annoyed with a slightly off handpass in the loss to Mayo in 2017, went away and made himself even more important in 2018. He's evolved again this year.
Even in that same question and answer session a few years back he referred to a weakness for taking ball into traffic. If there have been times where he still slips back into a one-dimensional ballcarrier mode, there were the kick-passed assists against Limerick. Two occasions where he showed vision, a knack for picking ball up around centre-forward and looking for his scorers and then the ability to dink or float little passes into the spaces.
On the pitch he has shown this mentality to take the game on, like he decided a few years back that he wouldn't be left wondering and now just attacks every moment of every game with pure conviction. He will need to avoid bottlenecks and running into multiple defenders but if he can get his running game going in the right areas of the pitch it'll be damn hard to stop him.
Cork aren't the most naturally creative of teams in a flowing ball movement style so they need his ability to punch holes to make goals and points happen and it's hard to see Cork getting a matchwinning total without Deane being a major influence, say a score or two and a pile of assists.
They'll need him to step up again to win games like this one.