Thursday 27 October 2016

O'Sullivan leading from the front in Cork's bid for glory

Michael Verney

Published 24/09/2016 | 02:30

Ciara O’Sullivan of Cork and Dublin’s Noelle Healy with the Brendan Martin Cup which will be up for grabs when the two sides clash at Croke Park tomorrow Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ciara O’Sullivan of Cork and Dublin’s Noelle Healy with the Brendan Martin Cup which will be up for grabs when the two sides clash at Croke Park tomorrow Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

When considering candidates for team captaincy, a range of characteristics come under scrutiny but more than anything else, managers want someone who will lead by example between the white lines when the chips are down.

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And rarely will you find a better example than Cork skipper Ciara O'Sullivan. At just 25, she already has seven winners' medals, with 2010 being the only year where success eluded her and the record-breaking Rebelettes.

The Mourneabbey attacker was forced to the sidelines nursing a ruptured cruciate on that occasion as an injury-ravaged Cork squad succumbed to Tyrone in the quarter-finals, but similar damage wouldn't hold her back two years later.

Missing the September showpiece, where she has a flawless record, was never an option.

After rehabbing vigorously, the Deloitte accountant defied all logic to play 57 minutes in their defeat of Kerry. Showing such superhuman strength in the face of sizeable physical and mental barriers marked her out as a natural leader, but making it to Croke Park was no cakewalk.

"There was one day after I tore it when I was in the gym in the Mardyke. I remember being on a bike beside a lady who was probably 60 and she was going about ten times faster than me," she says.

"At that point you are thinking you are not going to be playing but it improved an awful lot in a week and once the swelling went down I was able to get running and stuff again.

"Everybody would do anything they could to play in an All-Ireland final.

"A lot of it definitely comes down to luck, whether it will hold up or not and we were very lucky in 2012. It was a draw between Galway and Kilkenny in the hurling so our final got pushed back a week.

"Everybody was complaining but I was nearly having a party because it meant I had another week of rehab. So it was just a case of going to the gym three days a week and hoping it would hold out after that. Thankfully it did."

Coming into a medal-laden Cork panel alongside some of the greatest footballers of all time, and managed by the iconic Eamonn Ryan, brings its own expectations but there was never any question that O'Sullivan (pictured) would do everything in her power to play.

"It would nearly have been expected of you in Cork. I was very lucky, I came onto the panel at a time when they had already won three All-Irelands, and I was looking up to the likes of Juliet (Murphy), Valerie (Mulcahy) and all these girls who have since gone," she says.

"Thankfully we are left with a good few of them like Briege (Corkery), Rena (Buckley) and Bríd Stack. So you are trying to impress them as much as trying to impress management given all they have achieved. They are so competitive."

When Ryan, who masterminded 10 Brendan Martin Cup successes in 11 seasons, stepped aside to take up a role with the men's seniors late last year, there was a collective sigh of relief as managers and players the length and breadth of the country sensed that the red juggernaut may finally begin to move a tad slower down the tracks.

Such notions have proven unfounded, with new boss Ephie Fitzgerald, who admits to only knowing three or four of the players before taking charge, recovering from a rocky league start to eventually walk away with spring honours.

Familiarity certainly hadn't bred contempt with this extraordinary group so Fitzgerald didn't change much of a winning combination.

"Different managers have different ways of doing things but Ephie didn't come in and try to change everything," O'Sullivan says.

"He tweaked little things. We had a strength and conditioning coach for the first time this year but that would be the main change. Other than that it has been the same as normal in most regards."

And if anything the chasing pack have made life easier for them.

"In some ways it took a bit of pressure off in terms of people saying maybe we wouldn't get as far this year because of having new management. The expectation was relatively low, it was good in that respect," she says.

"As far as a seamless transition can occur , we have been lucky in that we set out to be in Croke Park in September and we are here, so we can't have any complaints."

Tomorrow will see the O'Sullivan quartet of Ciara and sisters Doireann, Róisín and Meabh chase an historic six-in-a-row, while Buckley and Corkery could possibly collect their 17th All-Ireland senior medal. But in their way stands a formidable Dublin side seeking revenge after successive final defeats.

"They will be massively hungry but we will be too, you don't get to an All-Ireland final unless you're hungry," says O'Sullivan. "I think we are going to match Dublin but if we don't, we are going to be in massive trouble."

Irish Independent

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