Wednesday 21 March 2018

O'Sullivan thankful for the joy of playing in a golden era

Skins ambassador Cian O’Sullivan pictured at the launch of the new Skins DNAmic team range. The range is designed exclusively for the demands of team sport. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Skins ambassador Cian O’Sullivan pictured at the launch of the new Skins DNAmic team range. The range is designed exclusively for the demands of team sport. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Dermot Crowe

In the boardroom at his club Kilmacud Crokes, legs outstretched and looking in mint physical condition, Cian O'Sullivan is flicking back through the catalogue of football influences which led to him donning the blue of Dublin at a charmed point in the county's history. His introduction as a senior player was a brutal one, thrown in as a first-half substitute against Kerry in 2009 when Dublin were being torn limb from limb. But that was then and this is now.

Then Dublin had a team still vulnerable and naive, with an expectancy of one All-Ireland maybe every 10 years. Now they have a team transformed, expected to reach another All-Ireland final today and soon bid for a third title in a row. A team, a movement, that is not just rolling back the years, but the generations too.

But he returns to that debut against Kerry, when they lost by 17 points, and the meagre one Leinster title from his years as a county minor and under 21, if he ever needs a reality check. "I've come from a time when I know what it was like not to win a Leinster or even be in a final," he explains. "Maybe some of the lads might think differently, but for me anyway I really cherish it. You maybe don't realise how amazing things are - even the All-Irelands - until you finish up playing.

"Then you look back and say, 'Wow.' You are kind of just stuck in the moment currently and you are thinking about the next game. 'What do we need to do against Tyrone?' 'If we beat Tyrone, ok we'll worry about what we need to do in the next game.' That's all we are thinking about, we don't really have time to sit back and say we've won X amount of medals, the league or Leinster or whatever. Winning my first one and winning the last one have been equally special."

And Kerry 2009 was as much part of life's experience as the All-Irelands that followed. "I know what it's like to be in a dressing room like that. That wasn't that long ago, so we've been really lucky to be born at a time when we have players like this around. Stephen Cluxton, Bernard Brogan, Paul Flynn, Mick Macauley. All these guys. I constantly remind myself how lucky I am to be playing football for Dublin and to have been involved in teams that have won the last couple of All-Irelands. I'm not taking anything for granted."

He is asked about the prospect of winning three in a row. He calmly seizes the question and defuses it. "If you start latching on to that, you are probably going into dangerous territory. You are looking too far into the future and the imagination starts running riot with you. And then you can get distracted from the main focus which is Tyrone. If you get distracted and not focused on the game, that is not where your head needs to be at. But these are the external things that do seep in and lads are all very well aware in their own minds that, yeah, we are going for three in a row this year. But it's accepting that's the case and not focusing on it and not getting into the future at all."

Wouldn't it be a remarkable feat all the same? "It would definitely. Like I don't even know when it was last done, I don't want to busy myself with it."

O'Sullivan's Kerry-born father, John, brought him to Crokes as an 11-year-old, after he'd spent much of his earlier years playing soccer which was his "first love".

His mother is from Kerry too, the place of numerous summer holidays as child, but he is chiselled from the experience of following Dublin from his early teens and an instant intrigue with Gaelic football when he came to Crokes for the first time.

"I can remember the first training session, going up to Deerpark in Mount Merrion and going in and having my session with the team. I loved it. I couldn't get over the concept of being able to run with the ball in your hands and being able to solo it. I was quite quick as a kid and I picked it up quickly. That very, very quickly became my new love."

From there he has scaled the heights to become one of he most decorated Dublin footballers of all time. He would change nothing of that but he recognises that the time involved is becoming more of an issue. "The season is very long at the moment. If you've a team that gets to an All-Ireland club final and their team gets to the latter stages of the inter-county championship, that's a 15-month season for someone who's rolling back straight into an inter-county season as well. You could have, and I remember Ger Brennan and Diarmuid Connolly when St Vincent's got to a couple of All-Ireland finals over the last few years, I just don't know how those guys sustained rolling from one season to another without any break for the body or for the mind. It's just . . . I know it's a rare enough instance where that happens but I don't think it should happen at all.

"I think people are starting to speak up about it and speak up about the window that's given to the club calendar and the fact that that accounts for the vast majority of our playing population while the vast majority of the year is taken up by the inter-county season. So I think changes are coming down the tracks and hopefully for the betterment of the players."

An improving Tyrone, he knows, are hoping to ask serious questions of Dublin today. "They are defensively a very strong team and nobody is ever going to put up a big score against them. They have really strong players, really strong runners and they're confident in their style of play so it's going to be a really difficult game for us. We are definitely aware of that."

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