Friday 23 March 2018

O'Sullivans' sister act to fore in Cork's drive for five

Cork captain Ciara O'Sullivan is one of four sisters on tomorrow's squad taking on Dublin
Cork captain Ciara O'Sullivan is one of four sisters on tomorrow's squad taking on Dublin

Michael Verney

All-Ireland final week is always a special occasion for all involved, but for the O'Sullivan family in Mourneabbey, it's a little more special than most.

Take the excitement, the nerves, the giddiness, the emotion and ratchet them up four notches - one for each sister involved.

The quartet of Ciara, Doireann, Róisín and Meabh O'Sullivan all chase All-Ireland senior ladies football success tomorrow.

They could be compared to any of the great GAA families, the likes of the Connollys of Galway, the Dooleys of Offaly and the Ó Sés of Kerry, such is the scale of their contribution to Cork ladies football.


It's a remarkable family achievement but despite the euphoria surrounding their Croke Park duel with Dublin, having four sisters making final preparations presents some unusual 'problems'.

"It's a big family occasion and everyone asks what's it like in the build-up. All I can think about is the fight between each of us trying to get the gear organised, all making sure we have the correct gear," says team captain Ciara.

"But I suppose we are lucky in having four of us involved. Everyone knows what it's like the week coming up to the final and everyone is equally nervous, so I think it is good to be surrounded by that."

Three in 2014 quickly became four in 2015 as youngest sister Meabh was added to the squad as sub-goalkeeper.

The family affair extends off the pitch - it's clear the O'Sullivans are a tight-knit unit.

Meabh and corner-forward Doireann are both studying in UCC while Ciara and older sister Róisín live together.

Their love of ladies football was fostered by their parents, and they return home every weekend.

"Our dad was trainer of Mourneabbey when we got involved and our mam was club chairperson so we kind of had no option but to get involved," jokes Ciara, a Deloitte accountant.

"It's probably harder for Mam and Dad because when you are involved you are caught up in it, and playing you can do something about it.

"I've started to get nervous already and I'm sure the girls will get nerves at home. It's natural if you care about something, you are going to be nervous about it. And we all want to win this game."

Ciara (24) has six winners' medals already in a glittering eight seasons with Cork, with 2010 being the only year where success eluded the team. She sat on the sidelines nursing a cruciate injury that year as Cork succumbed to Tyrone, but the same injury didn't stop her in 2012.

After rehabbing vigorously, the half-forward showed superhuman mental strength to play 57 minutes in the defeat of Kerry.

Nothing seems beyond Ciara O'Sullivan, and her star shone brightly once again in Cork's greatest hour of need 12 months ago.

The Rebelettes trailed by ten points heading into the final quarter against tomorrow's opponents, but led by O'Sullivan's unbreakable spirit, they somehow picked Dublin's pockets and produced a famous comeback. Survival instincts define this team.

"You're starting to realise that it's becoming nearly embarrassing being 10 points down, all you're trying to do is bring the score back and make it a bit more respectable," she admits.

"Then as each score goes over you start to think 'maybe we do have a chance' and that grew, and the crowd played a big part in driving us on as well.

"If you are going to lose you want to be remembered as at least a team that didn't give up, who went down fighting."

Despite the unprecedented success, O'Sullivan is a grounded individual and she appreciates the fact that other teams are sniping at Cork's heels looking to wrest their crown away.


"We know that we are very lucky to be there and that every team that sets out at the start of the year would want to be where we are," she says.

"Everyone obviously wants to beat us, but I think it's a lot easier to come back when you are winning.

"To face into training in January and February in the hard months when you have won and you have been successful is much easier than to go when you haven't won something before."

Having their very own Brian Cody also makes matters easier. The mercurial Eamonn Ryan has been at the helm for all nine victories, and O'Sullivan describes his approach as "very simple but very effective."

"His trainings never get boring. We are very lucky that he came on board 11 years ago and has stuck with us for so long because Cork football definitely wouldn't be where it is without him," she says.

"You are being competitive to stay on the first 30, to stay on the first 15, to be in the first five coming on, so there's an element of competition.

"Eamonn himself is very competitive - he doesn't like losing either. We definitely would be lost without him."

If Cork prevail, midfielders Rena Buckley and Briege Corkery would collect a record-breaking 16th senior All-Ireland medal, following camogie success two weeks ago.

O'Sullivan has nothing but admiration for the pair and appreciates sharing a changing room with some extraordinary talents.

She says: "If you see the effort they put in, in football, and then you picture doubling that. . . You'd think from what they do in football it's not possible to do any more, but they do.

"It's such a big part of their lives now for the last 10 or 11 years, I think it just becomes a habit, they are out six or seven night of the week; it's a way of life.

"I've been very lucky to fit into a successful Cork team. I've played with probably the most famous ladies footballers ever, players like Juliet Murphy, Nollaig Cleary and Angela Walsh. It's an honour."

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