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Dublin: 11 °C Monday 25 March, 2019
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'Massive shoes to fill' following her sister, a Páirc Uí Chaoimh bow, and that magical club win

Doireann O’Sullivan reflects on an incredible end to 2018 and the perfect start to 2019.

IT’S BEEN A nice start to 2019 for newly-appointed Cork captain Doireann O’Sullivan.

doireann Doireann O'Sullivan. Source: Sportsfile.

After All-Ireland final heartbreak with the Rebels in September, the end of 2018 was sweeter than she ever could have imagined as she steered her club Mourneabbey to national glory at the fifth time of asking.

The five-in-a-row Cork and Munster champions finally put three painful decider defeats (2014, 2015 and 2017) and a semi-final loss (2016) to bed as they beat Dublin kingpins Foxrock-Cabinteely and lifted the Dolores Tyrrell Memorial Cup.

From there, it’s been all go between a weekend break to Amsterdam, her older sister Roisin’s wedding, Christmas, a skiing trip to Andorra, and easing herself back to reality.

That has been helped, of course, by the news that she’ll lead 11-time champions Cork in 2019, taking over from her sister Ciara,

There’s been other positive developments in Ephie Fitzgerald’s camp with the confirmation of two Páirc Uí Chaoimh double-headers set for the league, and another in the Munster championship.

The 24-year-old is obviously in great form off the back of all of this and more than happy to discuss her captaincy, their upcoming — and first competitive — Páirc Uí Chaoimh appearances, the Cork set-up in general and that magical club All-Ireland win before Christmas.

“I suppose I can’t do any worse,” she jokes, when asked about taking over from four-time All-Star Ciara as skipper.

O'SULL Sister Act: Ciara (left) and Doireann (right). Source: Sportsfile.

“Ah no, to be fair, taking over from Ciara will be a nice transition because she promised she’d help me throughout the year. She’s done it for the last four years so she has a lot of experience. She just said she’d help me out, and I know as well, there’s girls who’ve been on the panel for seven, eight years now as well so they’ll help out massively. 

“Anything you ask anybody to do, they’re more than willing to. Even last year, Ciara would have done 90% of it, but you can delegate as well. There’s good leaders within the team.

“Ciara did an excellent job so I have massive shoes to fill. Everyone has huge respect [for her], whether you play with her or against her. The work she puts into Cork football, I have obviously massive shoes to fill. But that said, I won’t be doing it by myself.”

She adds: “I don’t see much changing, to be honest, in terms of my role on the team. Obviously if you’re on an inter-county panel, you wouldn’t be there if you weren’t willing to train hard.

“I suppose Ciara last year would have asked me to speak before matches, she would have asked Martina [O'Brien] or [Orla] Finn or [Orlagh] Farmer or [Eimear] Scally or whoever to speak before a match. Sometimes it is monotonous, I suppose, listening to the same voice or the same person harping on about a point whereas getting other people to step up as well [helps].

“There’s leaders throughout the team. I definitely won’t be speaking all the time, I’ll be looking at the other girls too to step up.”

Since linking up with the senior panel in 2012, O’Sullivan has become a star forward for the Leesiders, her monstrous point-scoring and free-taking contributing greatly to the five All-Ireland titles and five Division 1 league titles she has won.

Doireann O'Sullivan lifts the league trophy Lifting the league title in 2017. Source: Tom Beary/INPHO

She actually captained the side to their 2017 league crown in the absence of Ciara, who was away at the time.

“I suppose I got to lift the cup that day when Ciara was travelling,” she smiles. “It is a massive honour and massive privilege and I’m not saying it’s not, like it’s huge. I’m absolutely delighted.

“But as I say, I don’t see my role changing a whole pile. Obviously, I’ll have to communicate and be a link between management and players and put more time into the organisation side of things but in terms of playing and what is said in the dressing room, we all speak up.

“It’s a lonely dressing room if there’s only one voice so you’re hoping that you start away and other girls bounce off you. There’s massive leadership and people have stepped up. I suppose when we had so many retirements, we didn’t have a choice but to step up.

“I’m 24, this is my eighth year on the panel. The likes of Scally now is 22 and she’s being seen as an old one. We had a bonding weekend there and we split into the old ones and the young ones for an activity. Scall is just finished U21 and she’s classified as an old one. I suppose you’re forced to mature and grow up in that sense which is good.”

Last week it was announced that Cork will make history as they prepare for their first-ever competitive Páirc Uí Chaoimh outing next month. They’re pencilled in to face Tipperary at the county’s main grounds on 23 February while the men go head-to-head with Meath afterwards.

Their second appearance will be against Donegal on 16 March with the men’s sides locking horns in the second game.

“It’s class, to be honest,” O’Sullivan, who collected a first All-Star in December, continues. “I was absolutely delighted when I heard that.

Orlagh Farmer and Doireann O'Sullivan celebrate after the game Doireann O'Sullivan celebrating reaching the 2018 All-Ireland final with Orlagh Farmer. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“I was even talking to people in my club and in school and whatever, and I think people do find it hard to believe that we haven’t played there before. What that’s going to do for support and attendance is insane like.

“When I’m going to a match and I find out it’s on in a poor location down the countryside, no stand, no programme, you’re not attracted to go. Páirc Uí Chaoimh then, even if the match itself turns out to be a poor game — hopefully they won’t be — it’s a day out like, for families or whoever. A double-header as well is just an added bonus, you’re getting your value for money there. 

“It is something we’ve been looking forward to and we were just delighted when we heard the news last week.  The 20×20 campaign, that’s massive. Getting attendance up, it’s made it so much more attractive. Even say, Munster matches down in Drumcolliher and stuff, it’s just how are you expecting people to go there? It’s way more appealing to people [to go to Páirc Uí Chaoimh].”

Another benefit she sees is the fact that they’ll be showing the game off in front of a new — and bigger — audience. While All-Ireland final attendances have increased drastically over the past few years (46,286 in 2017 and 50,141 in 2018), they must grow beyond that.

It is, of course, the marquee event of the year but attendances through the league’s round robin fixtures and even the All-Ireland semi- and quarter-finals are poor.

“The biggest crowd we’ve played in front of the last couple of years would be Croke Park which actually is hugely daunting when you go from playing in front of a crowd of… your parents,” she laughs, “to over 50,000 last year.

“That’s hugely daunting so it will be really, really good to get experience of playing in front of a crowd and hopefully then, the end goal is to play in Croke Park in September. To get that experience of playing in front of crowds might stand to us if we do reach Croke Park in September.”

Doireann O'Sullivan and Emma McDonagh Facing Fox-Cab in the All-Ireland club final. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“When you train just as hard as the men do, I suppose,” she adds on showcasing the game. “Pitch sessions are minimum three times a week and then you’ve the gym twice, that’s five evenings or whatever.

“I think the least a team, regardless of gender, deserves is good facilities and to showcase our skills and what we’ve been training for all year. We’re kind of jumping on the men’s bandwagon. Hopefully we’ll get some of their crowd as well and attendance will improve.”

Cork will be hoping to set their stall out in this year’s Lidl Ladies National Football League Division 1 and go from there, after their six in-a-row hopes were dashed by Mayo in last year’s semi-final.

In the championship, while they returned to Croke Park following their 2017 absence, the Munster champions had to settle for 11 All-Ireland titles in 14 years as they were edged out by old foes Dublin on a scoreline of 3-11 to 1-12.

“Last year had positives and negatives for us,” O’Sullivan says. “It was our goal to get back there in September and obviously win the All-Ireland.

“We got one step further, getting back to Croke Park. I think it was six of the girls’ first time ever starting in an All-Ireland final. That experience is invaluable regardless of the outcome of the match, getting to play in Croke Park in a stadium of over 50,000 people, that will hopefully stand to us this year.

“We have a training panel at the moment of about 35 plus. We’ll be cutting that down but we’ll be using all players for the league to see what we have, bringing in new players. Last year, we got Saoirse Noonan in so hopefully we’ll get a couple of minors and a few new players that might have gone under the radar in previous years.

“We’ll experiment with the league and try go one step forward this year in championship.”

Gerry and Ina O'Sullivan with their daughters Meabh, Roisin, Ciara and Doireann O'Sullivan The O'Sullivan family in 2015. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

And while that All-Ireland senior club final win with Mourneabbey may feel like a lifetime ago now after the month’s celebrating the side put down, the memories are specials and ones that will last forever.

“It’s been a crazy couple of weeks,” the teacher grins, explaining everything that’s happened since. “Getting back to school now and back down to the gym and training is kind of a shock to the system.

“But we had I suppose the best month of our lives. We’ve been working for five years to win that All-Ireland and thankfully this year we got over the line.”

The outpouring of emotion around Parnell Park as the final whistle sounded said it all, and while O’Sullivan isn’t exactly delighted to be reminded on that, she most definitely agrees.

“Looking back now, we’re probably a small bit embarrassed. Well I think I am definitely embarrassed about doing an interview on TG4 while crying. I won’t live that one down!

“But it definitely was the best moment of my life when that final whistle went. There’s men who were 80 plus years of age crying on the field afterwards. Both my parents were crying.

“I suppose we had been crying for all the wrong reasons in previous years so to get over the line after such hard work, and such misery in previous years, it just meant everything to us.”

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Emma Duffy

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