O'Sullivan starting to make a big impact
Published 21/05/2011 | 05:00
Darran O'Sullivan has always bristled at perceptions portraying him as little more than an impact substitute for Kerry.
Throw him in, let him loose, let him buzz around the place with that searing pace of his when legs are heavy and minds tired -- but don't dare trust him too often with a shirt number lower than 16. That's risking it.
Truth or not, that's the way it has sometimes looked. O'Sullivan does nice things at a fast pace, but not all the time and not nearly enough in the company of so many other great forwards. It has been an ultra-competitive business being a Kerry forward in the era of Gooch, Donaghy, Galvin and the other O'Sullivan, Declan.
The statistics of Darran O'Sullivan's six-year career as a member of the Kerry football squad appear to embellish any perception that exists about the impact sub role, for that is what he has been in just over two-thirds of his inter-county career.
For every start to reflect on in a Kerry shirt, there has been at least two more on the bench. Even his landmark year, when he captained Kerry to the 2009 All-Ireland title, was frustrated by a selection hiatus early on before he finished strongly to merit conclusion for the last four games, the most sustained unbroken run of championship starts he has had.
In 34 championship appearances, O'Sullivan has started just 11. After debuting late in 2005, he started three out of the eight 2006 games, but went two full seasons (15 games in all) -- 2007-08 -- before Kerry's selection policy fell kind for him again. By now it has become a subject of humour for him.
"It's a bit unusual being in an interview situation and not being asked about it! I'm sure it'll come up again at some stage," he nods.
It may, but his best ever spell in a Kerry shirt may also have prodded him in a different direction. Unequivocally, O'Sullivan is considered to have been the county's best player in the league, Colm Cooper included.
A new lease of life at centre-forward appeared to bring the very best out of him, the width of the channels he was able to run down, scaring the lives out of opposing defenders.
Inevitably, for this weekend's championship opener against Tipperary -- a game they will be approaching with a lot more caution on foot of Wednesday night's minor result -- Declan O'Sullivan has been restored to the No 11 shirt, with Darran at right half-forward.
It's a scenario Darran can easily live with. Striving to become a permanent fixture in the Kerry team doesn't allow for choice words in these matters, not publicly at least.
"I loved it (playing centre-forward) to be honest. It's a position that I played all throughout underage and with the club -- centre-forward underage with Kerry, centre-forward with the U-21s and minors -- but having said that, Declan was away and in my eyes, he's the best centre-forward in the country.
"So, if I get the opportunity to play there during the championship, well and good, and if not, I just want to play my part. I've always said I don't mind where Jack (O'Connor) puts me, once I'm on the team, so we'll see how it goes.
"Because you're in the middle, you have so many different options and it's just a great position to play."
He has appreciated the consistency of selection throughout the league, earning a start for each of the seven games.
"It's definitely the best spell in terms of continuous games. I've played every game from the McGrath Cup all the way through the league," he acknowledges. So much so, that he has scarcely missed a minute.
"I think they tried me at wing-back in the first McGrath Cup game. I came off with 10 minutes to go; I didn't get put back there again. I might have come off in injury-time against Mayo. I'd say very few minutes now have been missed.
"I came off in one or two games, but I've played the majority of them fully through, so I've got a good bit of games under my belt this year."
After six sometimes frustrating years, Darran O'Sullivan may at last be able to see the road clearly ahead of him.