Saturday 21 April 2018

O'Sullivan shaking off 'impact sub' tag

Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

IT could prove to be the defining image of the summer -- Darran O'Sullivan surging towards the Cork goal, two defenders in his wake, before arrowing an unstoppable shot to the roof of the net.

It was a goal that encapsulated all O'Sullivan's qualities of skill, pace and power, which convinced Jack O'Connor to promote him to the Kerry panel for the 2005 campaign in his first year out of minor, an honour bestowed on only the very best of the litter in the Kingdom.

But he has had to be patient. Ability was never an issue, but getting it to all come together, particularly at the pace which O'Sullivan can travel at, was the challenge.

In another county he might have been expected to carry the can up front, but in the era of Colm Cooper, Kieran Donaghy, Declan O'Sullivan and Paul Galvin, he was forced to sit, watch and wait for much of his six years on the panel.

Just 14 of his 37 appearances in the championship have been starts, but that patience is starting to pay off. This year he has found the form of his life and has scored 2-6 from play in Kerry's three games.

"There was a small bit of an apprenticeship maybe. You have to learn your trade. There was the 'impact sub' thing that I had for a while. Getting rid of that tag was important," he said.

"I think I've improved on some of the simple things, like awareness and seeing different options. You never stop getting better that way, I don't think."

O'Sullivan rolls out the usual rhetoric about not looking past Sunday's All-Ireland quarter-final against Limerick at Croker, but large parts of the rest of the country are already eyeing a possible Cork-Kerry All-Ireland semi-final. Should that materialise, O'Connor's side could reach an All-Ireland final without playing anyone from outside their own province.

But that's looking too far ahead for O'Sullivan's taste. A depleted Kerry were caught at this stage last year by Down, when O'Sullivan believed they "had gotten ahead of themselves" and he is determined not to make the same mistake this time around.

"I wouldn't blame the fact that we were missing a few," said the 2009 All-Ireland-winning captain. "We had a great win in Cork and maybe we got a bit ahead of ourselves after that.

"And games against Limerick are always tight. Even the Munster final last year, they could have won that. We beat them comprehensively earlier in the year but it can be hard to beat the same team twice."

That O'Sullivan's career might have taken a different direction has been well-documented. Born in London, he was involved with Queens Park Rangers until his family moved home to Glenbeigh when he was 12.

There was also an approach from Munster rugby, but it amounted to nothing more than lunch with the province's CEO Garrett Fitzgerald and Donal Lenihan. The professional lifestyle appealed, but not enough to warrant a change of codes.

"I played a little bit of soccer but gave it up completely when I got in with the Kerry minors. I only played a couple of games of rugby in school -- that was to get out of a few classes.


"Once I came back to Kerry, there was only football as far as I was concerned."

The pressure will build steadily between now and throw-in on Sunday and it'll keep building as long as Kerry stay in the championship.

O'Sullivan doesn't like to tempt fate so no holidays have been booked, but he wouldn't rule out another trip to the Superbowl if the chance arose.

There'll be a couple of games of golf with a friendly wager, but not against Donaghy, who hustled O'Sullivan out of a few quid once upon a time.

But that'll be the measure of the distraction between now and, O'Sullivan hopes, the third Sunday in September.

Irish Independent

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