Ciarán Sheehan, the 30-year-old All-Ireland winner, has confirmed the end of his inter-county career with Cork, due to a persistent knee injury.
Sheehan, who watched from the sidelines on Saturday as his Eire Óg club were promoted to the top grade of Cork football, informed inter-county manager Ronan McCarthy of his decision in the past few days. Sheehan has struggled with persistent knee cartilage issues, most recently a torn meniscus, which specialists at the Santry Sports Surgery Clinic have told him will not stand up to the rigours of inter-county football.
Sheehan told Examiner Sport: “My knee has got to the point where competing at inter-county level intensity is no longer an option as the long-term health of the knee is at high risk if I continue to play at that level.”
The decision is a blow to Cork’s footballers ahead of the Championship. Sheehan isn’t 31 until November and had shown in last year’s League of his leadership potential with a new cohort of young players emerging from Cork’s U20 All-Ireland success in 2019. However, he’s been frustrated in efforts to utilise his footballing talents and professional experience from four years with Carlton in the AFL.
He returned to the Cork set up for the 2020 campaign but the season was hampered by knee cartilage injuries which forced him to miss Cork’s Championship efforts at the end of the year.
He underwent surgery last winter which Cork manager Ronan McCarthy hoped would sort the problem, but in the recent Division 2 League victory over Clare in Ennis, Sheehan suffered a meniscus tear in the first half.
On Sunday, Cork manager McCarthy toldthat Sheehan has been, and remains, “a consummate professional, and a class act, pure and simple.”
He added: “Ciaran Sheehan is a top player, a Rolls Royce of a footballer. He has been a calm and influential leader on and off the field and I’m certain he will have much to offer Cork football in the years ahead.”
At 19, Sheehan played at wing forward in the 2010 All-Ireland win over Down, contributing ten points in total to that successful campaign for Conor Counihan’s squad.
The extent of his talent was already evident by the time he was named Player of the Series in Ireland’s International Rules win over Australia in 2013. Later that winter, he signed a two-year deal to play AFL with Carlton, making his senior debut the following year. He was named rookie of the year but a serious hamstring injury put the brakes on his development.
It was a portent of the bad luck that continued to stunt his development in Melbourne. In a 2017 interview with this newspaper, he told John Fogarty: “I’ve had a fair few setbacks. I’ve had six operations in the last two and a half years, so it’s been very much an up and down career.
“I’ve had three hip surgeries, two knee surgeries and a fairly badly broken nose this year. The hips gave me a lot of trouble early on. In my first year, I had a great start and I played four games. I ran into some hip trouble pre-season my following year. I tried to rehab and get it back right but I ended up having to go for surgery halfway through the year. Both hips ruled me out for the year.
“I was fit and ready for the next season but a couple of months in I had a stress fracture reaction in my foot so went into a boot and that flared up my hip which meant I had to get that done again. I got back midway through that year but then tore my lateral ligament and hamstring as well — that put me out for another six or seven months.
“Then I got back this year and I had a pretty clean run aside from that broken nose. I had a meniscus repaired at the end of the year. There’s been a lot of interesting moments throughout my career so far but it’s been a huge experience and I’ve learned a lot about myself as a player and a person. It’s been quite an up and down trip.”
Sheehan plans to continue playing club football with Eire Óg, and now has the incentive of working towards involvement in the Ovens club’s first season in the Premier Senior grade of Cork football, following their convincing win over Mallow in the delayed 2020 Senior A FC final at Pairc Ui Chaoimh on Saturday night.
Eire Óg will play in a tough Premier SFC group alongside Castlehaven, Carbery Rangers and Newcestown.