FOR a manager who tends to stay away from the hyperbole in victory or defeat it was interesting to hear Ronan McCarthy when asked about Ruairi Deane after the Tipperary game in Thurles.
If you’d half expected the manager to play down the performance he went the other way instead, describing Deane’s display as truly magnificent and then throwing in an add-on about the decisions and transformations he’d made in the last couple of years.
It was a slap on the back for Deane and a reminder to others all in one. It felt like the start and the end of something for Deane.
The proper beginning of his Cork senior football experience as a major influencer of games, with as impressive and dominant a performance as a Cork player has produced in championship in some time.
The end product of a few years of a massive amount of work to get there.
We’ve heard about the Cork football management realisation at some stage of the Peadar Healy era that their general fitness levels had fallen way off elite team standards (all GPS game stats, body fat tests, etc pointed to it) and their subsequent efforts at catch-up.
Some players embraced the extra details on diet and conditioning; Deane positively lived the change.
His off-season work has been staggering this past couple of years, the hard running and workouts and life decisions where basically everything has been geared towards making himself the most powerful and the fastest and the best Cork footballer he could possibly be.
As one person involved with Cork put it, he just didn't care about what anyone thought and committed wholly to the cause.
You’d forget at this stage that Deane came back from a really cruel cruciate injury on his championship debut in 2014, where he lost two years really of game development and form and fitness and there were worries that he might fall away in the background and thoughts that he didn’t have the kick necessary for top inter-county football anymore.
Those doubts have been put away now but only through pure drive and hard work miles away from championship Saturday evenings in Thurles or down the Páirc. We saw the proof against Tipp.
If last year’s league campaign especially had moments of note – we recall a massive fetch and point up in Galway, a catch from the heavens at an important time against Meath, a really skilful dummy solo one-v-one finish v Down – then this was a 70 minutes that combined almost all of Deane’s strengths in one consistent game of excellence.
There were powerful runs from all over the pitch where he more or less broke tackles and took opposition players out of the game every time he ran, either from a standing start or when he ran onto the ball at speed.
It was fascinating to watch him off the ball and see him get the timing of movement just right.
At one point Mark Collins kick-passed the ball into space and right at the moment that Collins kicked the ball, Deane started running so that he arrived in support of the player receiving the kick-pass at the perfect moment to take the move onto the next step.
At another stage, he took the ball standing and slightly off balance and still managed to turn, make a yard of space and open up into close to full speed to leave his marker for dead within a few seconds.
In the league campaign, there were times when Deane set off on runs and beat one or two tackles but got swallowed up a little or was isolated and not able to work the ball into the scoring zone.
Here, he impacted the scoreboard too with assists and active involvements in scores right throughout the game. Deane made the pass for score one and was involved in the move for score 18.
He made the final pass for four scores, got fouled for two frees, had a heavy part to play in moving the ball for several more.
He didn’t score himself but he’s got a finish in his locker too when necessary but it may be that he saw his focus as bringing the ball to the scoring areas rather than scoring himself.
Deane has a proper impact role now where he is central to the functioning of the team in some ways and where his main attributes happen to just merge perfectly with the sort of powerful running Cork style are trying to implement.
His running speed and distances must be in the top group on the team.
He can fetch kick-outs as an option and it will be of interest how Mark White uses him as the year goes on.
He is one of the leaders now too and looks a player that has both decided this is his time and that he is going to drag others with him if necessary.
Aside – Bantry has a history of producing these powerful players of course, from Declan Barron through Damien O’Neill to Graham Canty.
When Deane was emerging as a young player there was something about seeing another midfielder with a good leap and great hands from down in deep West Cork that fitted and just seemed correct.
It’s unlikely we need to worry about any impact of bigging Deane up on his performance and he’ll see this as just a base level that ought to be reached every game.
In a question and answer feature in the Southern Star at the end of last year when Deane was asked about one sporting moment from the year he’d replay, he mentioned a play in the Mayo qualifier where he’d burst through but his handpass to Tomás Clancy was slightly off and Cork didn’t get a potential winning goal. It’d been nagging away at him since and you get the sense of a player with that kind of mentality of constant improvement and who is always looking for ways to better himself.
We’ve seen plenty proof of that already as we get the see the real Ruairí Deane step up at last.