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Regrets over Waterford loss, stepping away as Cork selector and Rebels progress in 2017

Diarmuid O’Sullivan is set to watch on the Cork senior hurlers this summer.

FROM BEING IMMERSED in the heat of championship on the sideline to the relative tranquility of watching on from the stands.

Diarmuid O’Sullivan will assume the role of spectator next Sunday as Cork set out on the Munster championship road, a different vantage point after being at the heart of their efforts for the past two seasons as a selector.

Cork start off 2018 against Clare in Munster but a new season cannot completely dispel the memories of their last day out in 2017 against Waterford on the All-Ireland stage.

Diarmuid O'Sullivan speaks to Maurice Shanahan Diarmuid O'Sullivan with Maurice Shanahan after last year's All-Ireland senior hurling semi-final. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Losing an All-Ireland semi-final prompts obvious regrets and there are specific incidents in the game that continue to play on O’Sullivan’s mind.

“There was a great opportunity there. I remember we were two or three points up and I looked down the line, and Derek (McGrath) was sitting in the seat and he was kind of a lonely figure at the time. Dan (Shanahan) was looking down at him and you could see it.

“We had them rattled; they were struggling to beat us then. Obviously there was an unfortunate incident with Damien then, he just got caught in a bad situation. There was no malice in it, it wasn’t reckless.

Paddy Power (6) Paddy Power hurling ambassador Diarmuid O'Sullivan.

“But looking back as a management team, we could have done things differently as well. Taking Stephen McDonnell off Austin Gleeson; he had Austin in his pocket basically for up the period of taking him off him. Should we (have) just gone with four forwards?

“We were leading by two points, should we have just kept an extra man back for that period of time to try and consolidate. But we changed with taking Stephen off Austin and we went six on six at that stage.

“When you sit down and look at after, previous to that it was obvious that Waterford’s ploy was to take Damien away from the square. He’s been really defending that area for us all year.

“I remember a couple of minutes beforehand (of the sending-off) turning to Kieran and I said ‘Jesus, Damien is a long way out the field.’

“They were after isolating Colm (Spillane) inside. I said ‘ok, the next break in play we are doing to change it.’ Damien was after getting sucked in and he had the yellow card got. He was in a position that he shouldn’t have been in.

“Just little things like that, they just play on your mind. If we had seen it maybe 30 seconds earlier, we could have got Damien back inside and Colm would have been out and he wouldn’t have been in the position where it happened. It was as much as our fault as anyone else’s, Damien just committed a foul and it was a yellow card and that was it.”

Cork's Damien Cahalane is sent off Damien Cahalane was sent-off in last year's All-Ireland senior hurling semi-final. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

O’Sullivan opted not to try this year to make amends. When Kieran Kingston opted to bow out last September from guiding the fortunes of the Cork hurlers, the Cloyne man felt it was right to move on as well.

“We’d initially set out, when I spoke to Kieran it was a two-year journey. That was it, after the two years we’d review it but he was looking no further than the two years.

“He brought me (in) so Kieran was loyal to me so look, we sat down and we spoke at length. ‘I have my two-year stint done here,’ he said, ‘if you want to continue on, feel free’.

“But look, he was loyal to me in the two years so I had to be loyal to him. I said, ‘Look, I was your pick, I was your man so I’m with you’. It would have been nice to build this year to see where we could go but the baton has been handed on to it’s their opportunity to build.”

Kieran Kingston celebrates with Diarmuid O'Sullivan Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

The prospect of moving into the managerial hotseat himself did not enter O’Sullivan’s thinking.

“No, absolutely not, no. For my role within the setup, you’re probably talking between 20 and 30 hours a week in the role I had, never mind what Kieran had, probably an extra 10, 12 or 15 hours a week on top of that.

“(I) couldn’t justify it at the moment. Some time, maybe some time, five, 10 years down the road. I don’t know, who knows what’s around the corner to be honest with you.

“(I decided) just step away from it and keep the head down for a while. There were a couple of opportunities there (coaching other teams) but (I’m) just taking a break from it.”

Breaking the link with this Cork group was not an easy decision  after the stirring manner in which they claimed Munster honours last July after a campaign that was illuminated by a bunch of emerging hurlers.

“We won arguably the best Munster title that was won in a long time,” reflected the three-time All-Ireland senior winner.

“If you look at the history of the Munster championship the last number of years, the team who has played the two games has probably won it.

Cork players celebrate with the cup after the match Cork players celebrating last year's Munster hurling final victory. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“To come through a Munster championship after winning three games was a fair achievement and to win it in the manner we did, the Tipperary game, no one saw it coming.

“(People said) ah Cork have had their day now, Waterford, they’ll never rise their standards. Munster final the same thing. All we kept doing was asking lads to give the best account of themselves, the best version of themselves on any given day and we got the most out of them last year.

“They were sick of being battered really. Lot of lads were sick of being battered by Cork people, from media down through the years. It was, ‘Jesus, this has happened again, Cork imploded, blah, blah, blah’.

“Mistakes happen, in every walk of life, as we’re all aware, So just encourage them to do the right thing, just keep the positivity.

“We got the maximum out of it. Pat Horgan reinvented himself, Conor Lehane, Damien Cahalane had a wonderful, wonderful year for us. Christopher Joyce. We got some big, big performances out of players who had been sub standard up to that.”

He’s worked with new manager John Meyler and played with Kieran ‘Fraggy’ Murphy, one of the new coaching sidekicks. O’Sullivan is hoping they can keep Cork operating at a hight pitch.

“He (John Meyler) was with us last year and there were 13 U21′s in the squad. We needed someone from that setup in there. He worked with us last year so he knows the squad, how the system operates.

John Meyler before the game Cork hurling manager John Meyler. Source: Conor Wyse/INPHO

“There wasn’t a definitive style or system that they tried to play during the league. It was hard to pin it down to see what they were trying to do but look, you’d hope there’s some continuity with what we were doing last year, moving into this year. It would be a shame to throw it all out the window.

“Obviously you want to make a few adjustments here and there to get the maximum out of the group, try to go a step further, maybe reach an All-Ireland final this year. John’s motto was, a couple of conversations I had with him, he was involved in a lot of development squads and his motto was ‘let’s make Cork great again’.

“You would perceive with a statement like that that John wants to do the right thing, play hurling in the Cork way and be successful.”

The last team from the county to bring the Liam MacCarthy Cup back to Leeside remains the one O’Sullivan anchored from defence in 2005.

“Cork have won an All-Ireland every decade. We’re still hopeful, this one isn’t gone yet, there’s a couple of more years left in it.

“Obviously we’re proud and the history and tradition is there so to break that chain would be ​very disappointing.”

As a novel Munster championship approaches next Sunday, O’Sullivan is adjusting to his changing role in Cork hurling.

“It’s a weird period. It’s only in the last couple of weeks you look back and reflect. There’s a lot of time to yourself. You’re back looking from the outside in, trying to figure out what’s going on.

“It’s different sitting back on this side of the fence being a supporter again, it’s something to look forward to, it’ll be enjoyable again.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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