LEGENDARY Cork hurler Joe Deane will mark next Sunday’s All-Ireland final day with a daunting appearance in front of a radically different Dublin crowd.
The acclaimed forward – who terrorised defences in four successive All-Ireland finals between 2003 and 2006 – is set to address an audience for the first time on his experience of being diagnosed and treated for testicular cancer.
And as former foes from Kilkenny and Tipperary are taking to the pitch at Croke Park to battle for the title of national champions, 31-year-old Deane will stand up in front of more than a 100 doctors from all over the country, as requested by his cancer specialist, Dr Seamus O’Reilly.
Three years ago this week, as he and his Cork teammates prepared for their All-Ireland final clash with Kilkenny, Deane was aware that his health was not quite right.
But because he’d taken an ill-advised decision to put talking to a doctor on the long finger, thoughts of cancer were a million miles from his mind.
Deane, who was diagnosed with the disease shortly after the final and rushed in for surgery, now realises how potentially serious his delay could have been.
“Bulletproof was the term I would always have used about myself. I think young men, even if they’re not inter-county hurlers, often believe they are invincible in terms of their health. They may read about health issues or see advertisements but they say to themselves, ‘I’m different, nothing like that will ever happen to me’,” he said.
“I think making people aware of my experience might help address that a bit. After all, I was very fit, my cholesterol was low, I never smoked and I drank in moderation, and even then only in the off season. I felt I’d never get sick… but I did.”
Deane says that in 2006 he noticed one of his testicles was a bit hard, but thought nothing of it.
“I said to myself, ‘Look, the next four to five weeks are very important, we are going for three-in-a-row and let’s get that sorted first. If there’s something still amiss after the championship’s through, we’ll get it sorted’. Given the way things turned out, I’m particularly aware it was the wrong approach to take. I had cancer all along.”
“My message is don’t delay. It’s the wrongdecision.”
Dr O’Reilly, the Cork-based consultant who treated Deane, said he was delighted the former hurler had agreed to speak to medical colleagues at the major cancer symposium.
“Joe’s reputation as a quiet man of the people, tied to his immense popularity with grassroots hurling fans even outside Cork, makes him a powerful advocate.
“Cancer incidence is increasing significantly. It is projected the disease will double between 2000 and 2020 and so the average GP will see a lot more cancer in the future than in the past.”
Dr O’Reilly said Deane’s story and his encouragement could make a difference in terms of challenging behaviour.
“Women are much more likely to have an established personal relationship with their GP than men. Without being sexist, it’s due to a range of issues from family planning advice through to smear tests and even attending with the children. There’s always work to be done in terms of getting men in the door,” he said.
The hurler’s positive prognosis meant he was soon able to resume training with a view to holding his place in the Cork senior side. Remarkably, he was back in action in the red jersey by January 2007.
Over the next two seasons, Joe went on to captain the team for a first time, putting in some stunning performances and reach an All-Ireland semi-final in 2008.
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