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Declan O'Sullivan senses a 'renewed purpose' in Kerry after disappointment of 2020

The former Kerry forward believes his county are moving in the right direction as they look to end Dublin’s dominance in the All-Ireland championship.

Declan O’Sullivan at the launch the 2021 EirGrid GAA Football U20 All-Ireland Championship.
Declan O’Sullivan at the launch the 2021 EirGrid GAA Football U20 All-Ireland Championship.
Image: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

MAYBE, JUST MAYBE, this will be Kerry’s year. The Kingdom, who last tasted All-Ireland success in 2014, made a bright start to 2021, pushing Dublin to a pulsating draw in the league and posting big scores against Galway and Tyrone.

They’ve carried that form into the championship, kicking off their summer campaign with an assured 17-point win over Clare.

It all seems to be moving in the right direction, with Kerry the obvious, and perhaps only realistic challengers to Dublin’s dominance.

“They’re going quite well,” says Declan O’Sullivan, a winner of five All-Irelands during his playing days with the Kingdom.

“I think the management would obviously be happy with where they are at the moment, but the big challenges lay ahead. I suppose last year taught them a valuable lesson that you can’t look too far ahead and I think they seem to have come back this year with a renewed purpose to concentrate on each game, and they’ve performed well.

“Obviously the Dublin game was the key game in the league and while they struggled for parts of that game, you would have to say that bar maybe 15-20 minutes, they did perform at a high level there, so I think they’ll be relatively happy.”

Kerry were, of course, also the favourites to push Dublin last year before crashing out at the first hurdle, with Cork stealing a dramatic win their Munster semi-final meeting.

O’Sullivan, who is manager of the county’s U20 team, feels Peter Keane’s squad have come back from that setback looking stronger, sharper, and hungrier.

I think what was very noticeable from the game against Clare (last weekend) was the overall strength and depth of the squad has definitely developed. You had a really, really strong subs bench against Clare and that translated then in the last quarter when they had subs coming on and bringing that energy off the bench, which was very important. 

“From an overall squad depth point of view, I think they have definitely developed since last year. I think you can also see the conditioning of the team, in particular some of the younger guys who have come through those minor successes, they really seem to be developing into men now – physically strong, hard running players.

“Again, that break maybe since last year allowed them to concentrate on some of the development and condition work, and that’s definitely showing at the moment.”

Dublin’s squad depth has also been up for discussion in recent weeks as Dessie Farrell’s group continue to shed some of their more experienced, battled hardened winners. Earlier this week Cian O’Sullivan followed in the footsteps of Michael Darragh Macauley, Paddy Andrews and Paul Mannion in stepping away from the squad that recorded a record sixth successive All-Ireland title last year.

cian-osullivan-and-declan-osullivan Declan O'Sullivan tackles Dublin's Cian O'Sullivan during the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Could this summer represent a period of transition for Dublin, and perhaps provide a glimmer of hope for the chasing pack?

“In normal circumstances you would probably say it would, but I think Jim Gavin had been very shrewd in his time as manager,” O’Sullivan continues.

“He kept introducing players while it might not have been obvious to people looking in that they needed new players to come in, because they were going very well. 

He kept introducing two or three players into the team every year. That means the transition that would normally take place, maybe like the transition that happened in Kilkenny or previously with great Kerry teams where a lot of the older guys get old together and leave over the space of one or two years, that doesn’t really apply to this Dublin team.

“If you look at some of their main leaders now they are still very young; Ciaran Kilkenny, Con O’Callaghan, Brian Fenton, those type of guys are probably steering the ship now at this stage.

“They’ve managed that difficult problem very, very well, and I think Jim Gavin would have to be complimented on that.

“I think the loss might be felt more around the general set-up and the standards and the behaviours of the group, maybe that you need some older guys there making sure that the younger fellas coming in know what is required to play for Dublin. I think they will lose something maybe generally around the squad and the mindset of the squad, but on the field, in terms of leadership, I think they’re well equipped there.”

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The former Kerry star was part of some great battles with Cian O’Sullivan in the early 2010s, and credits the Kilmacud Crokes defender with bringing a huge level of game intelligence to the Dublin team that changed the complexion of the All-Ireland championship over the last decade.

“Cian was a fantastic player, I think one of the best players we’ve come across in terms of his ability but also his understanding of the game and his reading of the game.

“He certainly was a very difficult player to play against, because when a player is so switched on mentally as well, he forces you to try do stuff that maybe you’d prefer not to be doing. You have to try drag him around the field and he was very intelligent in terms of how much he would follow you and not leaving that centre-back role too isolated.

“He was a very intelligent player, and one of the leaders of that Dublin team when they first came on the scene. I’m sure he’ll be a great loss around the squad in terms of his temperament for the big days and his understanding of game.” 

Declan O’Sullivan, Kerry U20 manager, was speaking at the launch of the 2021 EirGrid GAA Football U20 All-Ireland Championship. EirGrid, the state-owned company, is charged with delivering a cleaner energy future for Ireland.

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Ciarán Kennedy

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