The heavy playing surface, biting cold weather, poor fare and sparse attendance that accompanied Cork’s McGrath Cup opener against Limerick did not bother Ruairí Deane and Ian Maguire — the midfield pair simply thankful to be back wearing the red and white.
Both have been through the wringer in recent times and while Deane faced the longer road back after rupturing his ACL during the 2014 Munster final, 21-year old Maguire was hit by setback after setback in attempting to overcome a back injury that first reared its head towards the end of 2014.
Prior to Sunday’s one point win in Mallow, Bantry Blues midfielder Deane had not featured for Cork since that Munster final trouncing to Kerry; last February’s league fixture away to Monaghan representing Maguire’s most recent senior appearance.
“I had a back injury in December and it just came at me when I got on the bus after the Monaghan game,” recalls Maguire.
“I was struggling with it all summer. I was training away, but could never get match fitness.
“It was frustrating in the sense that I was training away and I felt I was getting it right, but then something would come up. Two weeks before the  Munster final, I had to pull out of training. Every time the championship was dangling in front of me, it kept getting pulled away.
“Then we had junior championship with St Finbarr’s and I broke my ankle a week before we were due to play Castlehaven. I came away from games thinking I was never going to get right.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find a less glamorous return to inter-county football than a McGrath Cup fixture three days into the new year, but the fourth-year UCC student will take 70 minutes of football wherever he can get it.
“I learnt from the rehab process and I will never take football for granted again. You think everything is ahead of you and then an injury brings you down. New year, first win of the New Year so I am just delighted. McGrath Cup, National League; I cannot wait.”
Deane too hummed a similar tune when ambling out of the Cork dressing room in the Carrigoon complex.
“It was a tough one, the first game back is never going to be easy,” he said. “The period of recovery after doing my cruciate was around nine or 10 months, but the same as going out there today and playing a game, it takes a lot of time to get back into match intensity. I thought I was ready last year, but maybe it was a bit beyond me.
“Last year didn’t work out as well for me as I had hoped, but hopefully I will get a fresh start here and work from the beginning of this year. This is my first McGrath Cup with Cork so we will take it from there and hopefully get a belt at the league as well.”
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