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Dublin: 11 °C Saturday 6 June, 2020

The unlikely journey from the West Kerry football heartland to an All-Ireland hurling final

Football exploits to hurling opportunity for Dingle’s Barry O’Sullivan.

DURING THE SUMMER Barry O’Sullivan took a call from the Kerry U21 hurling manager Ian Brick.

Bord Gáis Energy GAA Hurling All-Ireland U21 Final Media Day Kerry hurler and footballer Barry O'Sullivan. Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

A Munster U21 football winner with Kerry last April, O’Sullivan had resisted the lure of the United States to kick ball for the past few months.

His club Dingle were knocked out of the county championship in Kerry in early July leaving O’Sullivan with a free sporting diary.

Brick knew that O’Sullivan had hurled a little when he was younger and lined out at minor level briefly for Brick’s native club Kilmoyley.

He invited him into train with the U21 squad in Tralee and sold O’Sullivan on the idea that this was an experiment worth conducting.

On Saturday he’ll be at heart of the action in Semple Stadium on All-Ireland hurling final day, O’Sullivan playing midfield for Kerry as they attempt to lift the U21B crown against Wicklow.

Barry O’Sullivan celebrates winning Barry O'Sullivan celebrating Kerry's 2014 All-Ireland minor final victory. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“I had a quiet summer this year and Ian gave me a ring there and said will you come and play the hurling and I said why not?”, says O’Sullivan.

“He didn’t guarantee me anything, he said we’ll just see how you are and how the touch is and the skill level and thankfully enough I was good enough to make the team and I’m there since.

“I used to play a lot of it when I was younger, the brother Cian came to Dingle 40 years ago and he started up a bit of hurling. I played one game at minor with Kilmoyley in north Kerry and after that it petered out again.

“In Kerry if you want to be trying to play it is probably football. It’s mad alright in a way. It is very different but from an athleticism point of view I wouldn’t be too far off.

“The first few training sessions were tough but you get into it after a while like anything.”

O’Sullivan is trying to emulate the feat of Paul Geaney, the lynchpin of the Kerry senior football attack and a fellow Dingle man who was wing-forward when the Kingdom lifted an All-Ireland U21B hurling crown in September 2010.

Colm Boyle tackles Paul Geaney Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

An U21 decider may be traditionally viewed as a springboard to senior level but O’Sullivan freely admits that his hurling future beyond Saturday is vague and uncertain.

“My short-term goal will be to win the hurling, and then it will be back to football again. I said to Ian, I will have a go and take a punt.

“I had nothing to lose. It was nice to change it up a small bit as well, less pressure than in the football in Kerry. There is a great set-up inside there, they are very keen, they are mad hurling men.”

O’Sullivan has worked on ensuring his hurling is sharp. He studies veterinary in UCD and lives with the Kilkenny hurler James Maher, so there is someone available for pucking around with at Belfield.

James Maher Kilkenny hurler James Maher. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“At the start, the touch wasn’t as good. Naturally, I hadn’t played a club game in four years. My first game was playing Cork U17 hurlers, who went on to win the All-Ireland.

“A baptism of fire thrown in there. Look, it comes after a while. Just get in among the thick of it and flake away.”

It’s an opportunity he has been grateful to avail of. O’Sullivan has a rich football underage pedigree.

He captained Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne under the tutelage of Éamonn Fitzmaurice to win the Hogan Cup title in April 2014.

Barra O'Suilleabhain lifts The Hogan Cup Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The following September he was climbing the steps of the Hogan Stand as part of Kerry’s All-Ireland minor winning team under the guidance of Jack O’Connor.

Last year O’Sullivan made his bow in the league for the Kerry senior side as a substitute against Roscommon.

Then this spring he was a key part of the county’s first provincial U21 winning campaign in nine years, before their All-Ireland dream was halted by Galway at the semi-final hurdle.

He’s also found time to squeeze in a couple of Sigerson Cup campaigns with UCD, securing a medal last year and only losing out in the final last February.

Barry O’Sullivan with Oisin O’Neill Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“We were beaten by Galway in football and that was disappointing but look you have those days too. We had a job to do and we didn’t underestimate any team, we were beaten by Galway and they were better than us on the day

“There’s a lot of those of those fellas, Tom O’Sullivan and Brian Ó Beaglaoich have already came through, that they’ll be able to drive Kerry again.”

Barry O'Sullivan with Michael Daly Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

O’Sullivan holds an ambition himself to feature at senior level for Kerry but is pragmatic enough for now to focus on his studies in Dublin.

“Look, I don’t know. Down the line the dream is to play with Kerry and we might give it a go if the chance comes along. I am up in Dublin with the veterinary now.

“You have to be severely organised with the veterinary and it is tricky to do everything but if you are organised, you have a chance and the managers have been very accommodating over the last few years.

“I will try and play college and try to get on the Sigerson team again and go from there.”

And before that there’s the prospect of an All-Ireland hurling final to look forward to.

The reaction to his hurling exploits in a traditional football heartland in the west of the county has been predictably curious.

“It is funny enough alright, some fellas be throwing the eyes to heaven alright, how is a footballer playing? No club for four years, those kind of comments.

“I don’t really mind, I just laugh with it and don’t take much notice, just keep the head down.

“There is some serious work being done in north Kerry and around Kerry in general to promote the hurling. And hopefully, they will get to the top table soon.

“I hadn’t played in Semple since minor level with the football. It is probably the second best surface, after Croke Park.

“It is great to play the hurling and it is less pressurised environment to the football. You just go out there and enjoy it, have a bit of fun. I am delighted to be there.”


* Barry O’Sullivan was in Dublin to look ahead to this weekend’s Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21 hurling finals in Semple Stadium on Saturday at 1pm and 3pm.
Fans unable to attend the game can catch all the action live on TG4 or can follow #HurlingToTheCore online.

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Fintan O'Toole

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