O’Sullivan is now a captain herself, wearing the skull and crossbones armband in this her final year of PE and Irish in UCC. Should they win in a matter of weeks, she’ll follow her eldest sister Roisín in captaining the college to an O’Connor Cup title, while Ciara has lifted the Brendan Martin Cup for the last two seasons.
IT’S a decade or so since a young Doireann O’Sullivan regularly trekked to The Farm to watch the Cork seniors train.
She would sit in backseat as her older sisters, Roisín and Ciara, made the journey. But, it wasn’t her siblings she’d come to watch. It was three-time All-Ireland-winning captain, Juliet Murphy.
“I was obsessed with her!” O’Sullivan laughs as she settles in after a wet night of training with UCC ahead of their opening O’Connor Cup game against Maynooth.
“I really, really admire her. Not just on the pitch, but it’s what she did off it in taking the game so seriously.
“I remember she came to Cork U16 training once and did a strength and conditioning session, and I couldn’t get over it. In 2012 I got to play with her and one day we were all over the place in training. No one would ever cut across Eamonn (Ryan), but in the middle of a drill, Juliet pulled us in. She said we knew where the gate was if that was the effort we were putting in. The respect she held was incredible. She didn’t say much, so you knew when she did, she meant it.”
The Mourneabbey contingent are synonymous with being dogged leaders. Take last year’s All-Ireland final against Dublin for example. O’Sullivan, in this her sixth season, landed three huge second-half points to pull Cork back, and level, to defeat Dublin for the third September in-a-row (1-7 to 1-6).
Until then she was one of the ‘younger crew’, but as she climbed the steps of the Hogan Stand, O’Sullivan officially arrived as one of the go-to stars in Ephie Fitzgerald’s side.
“Ah, I still look up to the more experienced girls,” she quickly interjects.
“I’d never put myself in their category. A few of us have an awful long way to go to achieve what they have.
“It was a horrible first-half though, from our performance to the weather. At half-time we said we’d put the ball through the hand rather than kicking it, and that worked for us.
“Briege (Corkery) led the way though. In 2014, Ger (O’Flynn) stood up in the dressing room and said something, and last year it was Briege. She had two photographs – one of Juliet losing the All-Ireland quarter-final in 2010, and one of Martina (O’Brien) celebrating in 2014. Briege had the question ‘Which player do you want to be?’ printed out and that was all it took. If she’d done that at the start of the year, you’d have taken little notice, but we all knew it was now or never. That question was all about the next 30 minutes.”
And so O’Sullivan swung over three long distance beauties, and the Brendan Martin Cup returned to Mourneabbey for the second year running the following night. But, a senior club All-Ireland title still eludes her. Twice she’s been there, but last December Shane Ronayne’s side bowed out in the All-Ireland semi-final to eventual champions, Donaghmoyne of Monaghan.
“We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry over which was harder to take – losing an All-Ireland semi-final or getting to an All-Ireland and then losing it. We weren’t sure what to do! We gave it our everything this time around, and we couldn’t have asked any more. Donaghmoyne deserved it. This sounds weird, but it was probably the easiest of the three defeats to take because we knew we had given our all.”
Mourneabbey will regroup come the end of the month, and the shoulder will be put to the wheel for another season. Despite three cruel defeats, O’Sullivan and Co are coming back. There’s no giving up.
Sunday’s battle against Dublin will be a comeback of sorts in itself for O’Sullivan. She hasn’t played a competitive game since that All-Ireland club semi-final defeat, with a medial knee ligament giving her trouble. It’s the same knee that underwent keyhole surgery last June for a cartilage injury, but O’Sullivan is ready.
She was missed in Armagh a fortnight ago too. Poor decision making upfront cost Cork a chance of securing two wins in-a-row, having beaten Kerry in the first round. Now however they’re faced with a new Dublin set-up, who are hungry and eager.
“Having new management will be refreshing for them and they’ll all be trying to impress. That worked well for us last year when Ephie came in. We got off to a slow start alright, but it’s still a positive change.
“We’ll be under pressure if we lose, in that we’ll have to to win the majority of our remaining games if we’re to progress. Our decision making was poor in attack and we lacked patience against Armagh. Our shot selection too will be something we’ll have to improve, but these are the kind of games that you build your season on,” she adds.
And with that, it’s lights out. RAG Week called this week, but O’Sullivan and her housemates, Maire O’Callaghan and Aine Terry O’Sullivan, dared not risk it.
To compete for Cork means so much more.
February 17, 2016