LAST MONTH’S MUNSTER senior football decider may have been quickly filed away into the memory bank by many once the final whistle sounded, but for one Cork player the experience has lingered a little longer.
Ciaran Sheehan could not have conjured up two more contrasting images from provincial final day in a twelve-month time frame. Last year he was stretchered off in Killarney as Cork lost out, with his knee in excruciating pain as snapped cruciate and medial ligaments combined to rule him out for the rest of the season. This year in the Gaelic Grounds he walked off the pitch with the man-of-the-match bauble to his name and headed towards a Cork dressing-room where silverware resided.
“Yeah it was a brilliant experience and meant a lot to me,” Sheehan told TheScore.ie. ”I’d never won a Munster senior medal and to be honest there was almost tears of joy afterwards. It was a big turnaround personally. It’s had a huge impact on me as a player.
“I was only thinking that this time last year I was crocked up on bed. It’s not a nice place to be when you’re so used to playing the whole time. But it’s turned around now and I’m enjoying it. Long may it continue.”
Amidst the despair last year at being the latest victim of the cruciate curse that swept through inter-county squads last year, Sheehan took an optimistic view and fought to get back on the road to recovery. He was helped by a deluge of support messages that came his way, with best wishes even arriving from unlikely areas like Melbourne courtesy of Setanta Ó hAilpín and Finuge courtesy of Paul Galvin.
Once he underwent the operation in Santry last September, Sheehan began his rehabilitation. Early morning sessions in Páirc Uí Chaoimh under the supervision of Cork physio in Colin Lane were a tough slog but he persevered. And even when he decamped to Perth to visit his cousin for a few weeks in late December, he continued his training programme with Lane and Cork IT GAA Officer Keith Ricken having helped him to locate a physio to work with out there.
“It was a long road back but in a sense it helped me as I got to see things from a different angle looking on. You could see things in training and games that you might not have noticed before when you were playing.
“The moment I did it, I tried to take as many positives as I could and didn’t want any negatives to come into it. I tried to get as much info as I could to improve myself as a player. It has been a help. I got myself into as good physical shape as I could.”
Since his return to competitive action Sheehan has slotted into the Cork half-forward line but has been experimenting as well with a shift at centre-back for his club Éire Óg in a local championship game in May and in recent training games with Cork.
“It was something different for me, coming back from injury. It’s a benefit to see both positions. I’m not sure am I up to the level of playing there at inter-county yet. It’s something I’d like to do and I enjoyed it. But it’ll take a while, there’s a defensive side to it that I’d need to work on.
“I would have played in the position a few times in hurling but this year was the first time in football. We’d have a lot of good firepower with the club in attack so I was brought back to bring some ball-carrying to it.”
Now Sheehan is getting set for his first competitive outing in Croke Park on Sunday since the 2011 Division 1 league final when he shot 0-4 in that victory over Dublin. Facing Kildare will be a novel experience.
“I’ve never played Kildare at senior but at U21 level we played a couple challenge games, going up the country to play them. They were strong physical teams and some of them will now be drafted into the senior squad. Their attacking football is very good I think.
“From watching them recently, I’ve noticed the fluency of their play is really good. Ever since McGeeney took over, you can see their fitness levels have changed. Their ability to go up and down the pitch is phenomenal. We hope we can match them in that regard.”