'I'm very conscious of the fact this is not going to last forever' - Dublin's Cian O'Sullivan keeping feet on ground
Published 05/10/2016 | 02:30
When Cian O'Sullivan was parachuted into action against Kerry in his debut season during the infamous "startled earwigs" demolition of 2009, no one, including himself, could have envisaged that the Dubs would win four All-Ireland titles in six years by the end of 2016.
Thrown in at the deep end after 28 minutes with Pat Gilroy's side trailing 1-10 to 0-1, O'Sullivan must have feared that playing second fiddle to the Kingdom in their chase for national honours would be the story of his career.
And after watching Meath destroy their six-in-a-row Leinster title hopes the following June with a five-goal rout, many believed Dublin could be set for some lean years but the opposite has materialised with four successive championship victories over their great Munster rivals rubberstamping their reign at the game's pinnacle.
Since breaking their 16-year duck en route to All-Ireland success in 2011, a blue wave has engulfed Gaelic football but the Kilmacud Crokes defender is well aware that all good things come to an end so he plans on making hay while the sun shines in the capital.
"Playing for Dublin is such a massive honour, a privilege. There's days when we are winning silverware, what better place to be? I'm very conscious of the fact this is not going to last forever. Really relishing and cherishing these days," O'Sullivan says.
"I started out in 2009 and we got hammered by Kerry in a quarter-final and then two years later we were lifting Sam. Things can change in a very short space of time and that's something I am very aware and conscious of.
"Four All-Irelands with Dublin now, and if you were to ask me starting out my career in 2009, is that something I would have envisaged? Not a hope in hell. You really have to try and make the best of these days.
"Personally to be involved and to play in four All-Ireland finals and win four All-Ireland finals in Dublin, at that point in time, because I was a sub on the team, it's not somewhere I would have pictured myself."
The two-time All-Star (28) admits the All-Ireland final replay stretched players mentally and physically with the 'Jesus, I thought the season would be over after this point' mindset hitting them initially before "pushing that reset button and getting going again".
It didn't deter them one bit as they outlasted Mayo in another epic. And with much of the post-match discussion centring around Rob Hennelly's surprise start and his subsequent game-defining blunder, O'Sullivan sympathises with his situation.
"I've been at fault in games in the past where we've lost and constantly been replaying all these little moments back in your head, saying, 'If I'd done this, if I'd done that', but unfortunately his is the one that sticks out in everyone's mind, his mistake," he says.
"There were so many other things that could have gone a different way during the game and it would have been a different result and there was only a kick of the ball in it in the end, so you definitely feel for him.
"But I don't think anyone would point a finger. I think everyone would recognise it's not any one man's fault. It's not anyone's obligation to win the game and it's not any one man's fault if you don't win the game."
After lining out at No 4 in 2011 with Michael Fitzsimons playing in the opposite corner, he wasn't shocked to see him deliver on his potential, delivering a man-of-the-match display when catapulted into the fray last Saturday.
A player who has surprised him, however, is Brian Fenton, the front-runner for Footballer of the Year, who has never tasted defeat in 24 competitive games with the Dubs.
"He didn't play much underage and then he came into the panel last year, you're kind of saying, 'Is this a guy that we're going to see stick around for a while or is he a January to March player and then kind of falls off the squad into the summer?'" O'Sullivan recalls.
"First impressions were, 'No, this isn't the superstar' but he just improved every training session and once he got his chance to start he's just taken off from there. It's great to see that if you do want this and you're willing to work hard enough and dedicate yourself to it that it can pay off."
There's no time for O'Sullivan and his Dublin team-mates to rest on their laurels, however, with All-Ireland club champions Ballyboden St Enda's waiting for them as the Dublin's SFC wheels around just seven days after lifting Sam Maguire.
"It's definitely not ideal preparation, and I think it's a bit unfair on the clubs, that the players are only handed back to them with a week to go. And trying to integrate the county players into the squad, I think the clubs probably deserve a little bit more than that."