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      Rianna Dean: The road to recovery - and the journey ahead


      For the first time in 16 months – or 505 days, as she later counted – Rianna Dean possessed something of a rare commodity in football: certainty.

      The former England U21s forward – whose last competitive appearance was in a Liverpool shirt in September 2021 – has taken giant strides in her personal road to recovery.

      For any athlete, it is a worst-case scenario: that seemingly never-ending injury, impossible to shake off. An ailment which - on each occasion you seem to take one step forwards - sets you two steps back.

      Its timing was cruel. Having moved to Merseyside, Dean got off to a flying start for Liverpool last season, scoring twice in her first three games - only to aggravate undiagnosed plantar fasciitis, an injury to the tendon under her foot.

      This eventually caused a tear through over-use, ruling Dean out for the short-term and, sadly – despite everybody's best attempts to find a solution – the entire season, in which Liverpool went on to win the league title.

      Dean said: “It’s one of those ones where I wasn’t sure how long it would be. When I first got the injury, I was just taking it day by day.

      “It was the uncertainty which took its toll on me, really, because I never knew how long I was going to be out for. It ended up being almost 16 months.

      “It was a rollercoaster. If I look back at the time, it’s quite blurry after being out for so long. Sometimes, I'd get my hopes up that I was recovering, and then things went down again.

      “It’s been hard not really knowing the nature of the actual injury and what it was, but it’s been resolved now, thankfully. I’m just happy to be back!”

      Having joined Palace Women in the summer of 2022, that resolution is a product of Dean's and her supporters' endeavour, perseverance and – in her own words – “more downs than there were ups, at times.”

      Her breakthrough moment arrived this last Sunday (22nd February), when Dean came off the bench to play the final 10 minutes of Palace’s 3-2 defeat to Coventry United at Butts Park Arena.

      Although Palace’s new No.9 knows that a long path remains ahead of her to reach peak sharpness, her relief at returning to a competitive football match was evident.

      “I’m delighted to be back,” Dean smiled. “It’s been a long time coming for sure, but I’m just buzzing to be back, and grateful for the opportunity the club has given me.

      “In those sorts of games, you always want to come on and score, but sometimes you can’t. I was just grateful to be on the pitch, if even for a minute, after coming back from a long time out.

      “I’d like to thank Crystal Palace as a whole. I came here injured, but the club still welcomed me in. The likes of Dani [Daniele D’Ettorre, Physio] and Chico [Lyons, Lead Strength & Conditioning Coach] have been absolutely excellent, and very patient with me.

      “They’ve done anything for me, even on their days off. They’ve always been there to support me, and obviously Dean [Davenport, manager] and James [Marrs, head coach] have been excellent too – all the staff have. All my teammates, and of course my family, have been with me every step of the way.

      “Hopefully now I can just push on, get more minutes in the tank, keep on improving, and stay fit.”

      Having previously played in the Women’s Super League, as well as internationally for England U21s, Palace could now offer the perfect platform to a player of Dean’s prolific talents.

      The forward notably made her debut for Arsenal at just 16 years of age and later enjoyed profitable spells for Millwall Lionesses and Tottenham Hotspur, including 14 goals in 19 Women’s Championship games in 2018/19.

      Dean explained: “I’m still on a journey back. Just now, I’m taking it week-by-week, building up the minutes and training well. I need to keep on training, staying fit and completing all the sessions I possibly can, so I’ll just take it week by week.

      “Obviously, we’ve got Durham this weekend [in the FA Cup]. I’m hoping to get more minutes in and come into the league as well, and hopefully by the end of the season, I’ll have a full 90 minutes under my belt.

      “Crystal Palace are a massive club, and the history it has is incredible. It’s definitely a club I’ve always wanted to represent, just with the fans and fanbase that they have. It’s something which drew me in and made me want to be a Crystal Palace player.

      “There’s so much potential here. We have quite a young squad and we’ve obviously signed a lot of new players this season. We knew it would take time, in terms of gelling and creating chemistry between us on the pitch, but I think, for sure, we have great talent and great staff here.

      “We’re trusting the process at the minute, and hopefully that can come together soon and we can show why we are such a talented group. We will push on and keep improving every week.”

      The goal in the short-term, as Dean reaffirmed, is progression into the FA Cup fifth round.

      Palace impressed in beating Watford 5-1 in the third round at the beginning of the month, but face a lengthy trip to fellow Women’s Championship outfit Durham on Sunday (29th January), where they will kick-off at Maiden Castle at 12:00 GMT.

      Dean noted: “Everyone wants to play in the FA Cup. It’s a massive competition to be a part of, and after what we’ve been through recently, we know we can turn our form around and everyone can enjoy a fresh start at the weekend.

      “We’re all buzzing to be part of it, go to Durham, hopefully win and get through to the next round of the Cup.

      “I won a few FA Youth Cups with Arsenal, and they were some of the best times of my career for sure. I’d love to win it with Crystal Palace. It’s a cup and anything can happen.”

      The journey back might have been arduous, but Dean's excitement to get properly started with Palace - and return to her footballing peak once more - is evident.

      “Playing for my country is something I’ve always wanted to do one day. I played for the England youth teams, and I want to try and reach that level again.

      “If it takes me into my 30s, it’s still something I’ll try and push for. I know that I need to perform and do well, and I still have a long way to go, but people peak at different times.

      “Hopefully if I keep working hard, and doing the right things with Palace, who knows what will happen.”

      Palace Women are next in action away at Durham Women in the FA Cup fourth round on Sunday (29th January). Kick-off is at 12:00 GMT at Maiden Castle Sports Park.

      The Eagles then travel to Southampton FC Women the following weekend for a Women's Championship fixture on Sunday, 5th February.

      Palace subsequently welcome Durham Women to Hayes Lane for Palace’s next home game: a Women’s Championship clash on Sunday, 12th February at 12:00 GMT.

      Tickets for are available for that game from £5* for Season Ticket holders and Members, and can be purchased here.

      Please note that ticket prices will increase on match day for purchases made online and at the stadium.