At the tender age of 23, Dr Tom Devine bid farewell to inter-county hurling. It had been on the cards.
Throughout his five years studying medicine in UCC, he had always managed to find enough time for hurling — but out in the real world since last year, the buck had to stop.
And so, shortly after a month of pre-season training, he broke the news to Páraic Fanning that he could no longer make the commitment as well as working shifts as a junior doctor in Waterford Regional Hospital.
A concussion a couple of months earlier had spooked him too, but the demands of his occupation simply had to be met.
“I kinda had a few weeks going to training when I knew in my heart I wouldn’t be able to do it properly. I wasn’t eating as well or sleeping as well or getting to the gym like everyone else because of work.
"I pulled out at that stage then because if it was this time of year things would have fallen apart for me fitness-wise, because I wasn’t able to put in the hours at training.
"I’m glad I made the call then and in fairness to Páraic, he was great and very kind about it.”
Hurling was never going to define him. An All-Ireland winner at colleges, minor, and U21, he considers five senior seasons an experience that he will look back on fondly.
Having turned 24 last Thursday, there is plenty of time for him to make a return, but he doesn’t envisage it.
“I couldn’t see myself going back. It’s too many hours — I don’t think I’ll have the time in the future.
"I’d like it if it was a little bit less demanding, [but] at the same time I’d rather put proper effort in work as opposed to dragging myself between the sport and work.”
Besides, Devine intends travelling in New Zealand this summer before setting himself up there as a junior doctor for a year or two.
That wanderlust is what brought Devine to Boston and after that to San Francisco in 2017, which meant he missed out on Waterford’s run to an All-Ireland final.
So conscious was he of how his departure from the panel that April would be viewed, he released a statement to explain the reasoning behind his decision.
That exceptional behaviour is what characterises him.
Here is a man who has already climbed Kilimanjaro, worked a month in Africa and walked the Camino de Santiago with his family, with whom he won RTÉ’s Ireland’s Fittest Family competition four years ago.
To pursue that feat, he needed time off training, but Derek McGrath obliged, appreciating the free spirit of the Modeligo man.
On the field, this barrelling force of nature was as unorthodox as he was off it, playing with protective gloves to help guard the tools of his medical trade and opting for a synthetic hurley.
He used it in scoring 1-2 against Tipperary last summer: “It’s pretty much a real hurley, but a bit more reliable, I suppose.”
In Waterford, it had been speculated that the concussion he suffered in last November’s county intermediate football final against Kilmacthomas had convinced Devine to step away.
It didn’t, but the subsequent blackout, amnesia, and grogginess was a scare.
“We were finished in the hurling and I hadn’t played football in a long time but I think I got a knee or an elbow to the head. It did worry me. There was a half hour which I don’t remember.
"I went to the hospital for a CT scan to make sure there was no bleed. An hour and a half after the bang, I was asked who I am and what date and day it was — and Jesus, I didn’t know the day or the date. I was a bit rattled, but a few weeks after I was OK again.”
As a result of the concussion, Devine was restricted to non-contact activity during Waterford’s pre-season preparations, but when training ramped up, he realised he couldn’t sustain the effort.
“The five-year medicine undergraduate course, the first year or two was fine. Then there was more placement and more hours.
It was manageable, but college was set hours and with placements you could come in early and leave early. You could work your hours around to suit training, but working now that’s not possible.
Doctors are becoming a dying breed in the inter-county game.
Where up to recent years there were the likes of Ciarán McDonald (Tipperary), Stephen Lucey (Limerick), and Brendan Murphy (Offaly), Dublin’s McCaffrey stands as the only one now playing at the top level.
“Shane O’Keeffe from Cork and Davy Glynn from Kilkenny were with me doing the medicine in UCC, but once the college years are over it’s not really as feasible anymore,” says Devine.
“Jack McCaffrey is doing the internships like myself but I’d say there are a bit more resources behind him up in Dublin to try and mind him a bit.”
As he was working, Devine only caught glimpses of his former teammates’ Division 1 semi-final and final.
He recognised hunger in the players having had most of last summer off and praises Fanning for making a smooth enough transition from McGrath’s time in charge.
“It was a luckless year, in fairness,” he recounts of 2018, “and a bit unfortunate for Derek because he has been an exceptional manager and I absolutely loved being involved with him.
"Derek was great for so many years and there was definitely a risk that things would regress as soon as he left because he had such a big bearing on the whole thing, but the lads picked up the slack very quickly and Páraic is a good man to come on board.
"There’s no step back in the transition, everyone is just driving on.”
Ask him what he will miss most and he’ll tell you, but says he won’t regret giving up.
“The camaraderie and the journeys to training with the lads,” he says.
“There was a good core of us in UCC and the big days will stay with me too but there were a lot of days in November, December and January you won’t miss.”