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O'Sullivan grabs second chance as brothers thrive in three codes

Meath forward Cillian O’Sullivan in Cavan yesterday. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Meath forward Cillian O’Sullivan in Cavan yesterday. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Last weekend saw the O'Sullivan house in Moynalvey pack their three boys off to wage war on three different fronts in three different countries.

Mark, the oldest at 26, featured for the Meath hurlers in the win away to London. Hugh came on as a replacement for the Ireland U-20s team that were beaten by France in the Six Nations, while Cillian lined out for the Meath footballers as they beat Clare.

It was another milestone for the village of Moynalvey, which has a freakish ability to produce elite sports people. Rugby star Devin Toner hails from there as does Grand National winning-jockey Robbie Power and Olympian Sara Treacy.

However, Cillian O'Sullivan explained that the brothers had a different take on their sporting weekend less ordinary.

"We scored 21 points against Clare and I didn't score one. Mark came on against London when the game was well won and Hughie came on against France (and they lost). So I'm not sure we had the best effect!"

Enjoyment

Mark O'Sullivan who plays for Meath hurlers. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Mark O'Sullivan who plays for Meath hurlers. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

"We always played everything. I played rugby in school, Mark played rugby in school and Hughie played obviously and he would have played GAA growing up too.

"Mark always got me out when we were playing and then Hughie, we pass it on to him. He was out from a young age in the garden and that's probably where you get the enjoyment."

O'Sullivan could have followed his brothers and went away from football but it always had a hold on him.

As a student in Belvedere College, he played Leinster schools cup rugby where he "got run over by the likes of Dan Leavy" but still did enough to attract the attention of Leinster selectors.

Hugh O'Sullivan is an Ireland rugby U-20 international. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Hugh O'Sullivan is an Ireland rugby U-20 international. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

He also won an All-Ireland minor 'B' hurling title with Meath before a run to the 2012 All-Ireland minor football final made up his mind.

"I was playing cup rugby and was invited to Leinster trials. And I had to make a decision when I got a call from Andy (McEntee) who was in with the minors. Once I finished with the cup he asked what was I going to do. He said, 'We have minor team here that were going well', and I had played minor the year before and I suppose I let my heart choose really.

"Growing up I dreamed of playing for Meath and was at the All-Ireland finals and it felt like the right thing at the time and it turned out to be that way. We had a great journey with that underage team and I still love playing today."

He's not sure that rugby would have been there for him anyway but the oval ball game still holds an appeal. He might return to it down the line but for now, he's dreaming of big days in Croke Park.

"But where you have grown up and what you have dreamed of you remember being in the stands in 1999 (All-Ireland final) and then balling your eyes out in 2001 (when Meath were beaten by Galway in the final).

"You are not sure why but you are doing it all the same. That's what made me realise what was important to me."

When he decided to pursue a career in football, it was almost over as soon as it started. A star on the minor team of 2012, he made his league debut in the opening game of 2014 against Galway. He grabbed 1-1 that day and the county purred with what he could be given some time.

He played the following week against Monaghan but a serious back injury meant he wouldn't been seen again in county colours for two years. "I played against Galway in the league. That goal is what I relied on for the next two years."

Initial attempts to rehab the injury fell short. And when he decided to go under the knife to fuse vertebrae, it was more with quality of life in mind than county football.

Torturous

The road back was torturous. He was confined to bed for around three months after the operation. After that he was in a back brace for another six before finally making his return in the O'Byrne Cup in 2016. Having made a full recovery, he hasn't looked back.

"I have metal in my spine holding me together!" he smiles. "At that time I didn't want to leave anything to chance. My diet at that time was great. I ate all the anti-inflammatory foods I could find, did the exercises every day, repeat, repeat, repeat, no bother to me because at the end of it, if it didn't work out I wanted to be able to say I did everything I could."

He's back in harness now, a key part of McEntee's plans once more. On Saturday night, Meath will travel to Cavan and look to keep their promotion hopes alive.

O'Sullivan has big plans for the Royals, not least to help them return to the top flight. But having so nearly missed out on a career in football, he's relishing every moment. Last year he flew over and back from Leeds University, where he was studying for a Master's in Psychology, to line out for the Royals.

"That (injury) gave me perspective. I love going for a run now or doing anything physical. If a fitness session is coming up or a hard session where we are getting drilled I feel myself getting tired I just think, 'Cop yourself on.'

"It's about paying a bit back too. I have had huge support from my parents, family, club and county. I'm extremely thankful and lucky to have this chance, to get all the support I did to have another chance. I'm thankful for that."

Irish Independent

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