Darragh O’Sullivan: Gunners keep eyes on the prize

Darragh O’Sullivan: Gunners keep eyes on the prize
Ballygunner joint managers David Franks and Darragh O’Sullivan watching the Munster Club Championship semi-final against Patrickswell at Walsh Park in Waterford earlier this month. O’Sullivan warns Borris are a ‘formidable outfit’. Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Darragh O’Sullivan pauses when the opening question lands.

The Ballygunner side he’s managing have landed into a third Munster club final in a row, and they face Tipperary champions Borris-Illeigh on Sunday. A question about that achievement, the hat-trick of appearances, gets an answer which is on-message.

“Preparations have gone well and we’re happy with the performances we’ve given so far. But we have to reach the level again on Sunday.

“It’s a Munster final, and it’s great that we’re back there now for the third year in a row, it’s great for the club as a whole and for the team — but we need to win that game.

For us, putting Munster club titles back to back would be great, and the lads have worked very hard not just this year but for the last few seasons to reach this standard.

“It’s going to be hard. We know that. There’s no looking ahead from us — ever — and we always take each game as it comes. We’re not naive enough to think beyond Sunday’s game. That’d be crazy stuff, and I’m sure Borris would be exactly the same.

“This is a flip of the coin when it comes to picking the winners, no matter what the bookies might think.”

The bookies might be favouring Ballygunner on the back of dismissing their two previous opponents pretty briskly. The Waterford men had 12 points to spare over a Sixmilebridge side they beat in Sixmilebridge; they were eight points better than Limerick champions Patrickswell in the provincial semi-final.

“They were great wins,” says O’Sullivan. “Obviously it’s great to qualify for a Munster final. But Patrickswell, for instance, came back strong against us and we only led by a point at half-time.

“But our lads had done the same in the county final in Waterford against De La Salle — they brought it back to two points when they had the wind, but our lads turned it when they got five points in two and a half minutes.

We’ve got a very experienced team. They’ve been on the road together for years and have come up against all sorts of adversity on the field, all sorts of different challenges, so they can find the gear when they need to.

“But they’ll have to find that gear again Sunday, because Borris are a formidable outfit.”

The Tipperary side will present a whole new challenge to Ballygunner this Sunday: “We’ve tried to look at them, to analyse them, but often that’s hard enough to do. Obviously we know they’ve been there or thereabouts in Tipperary for a few years, they were in the county final a couple of years back so they have that experience to draw on, but there also appears to have been an influx of youth into the panel recently.

“Because of that they have a lot of talent all over the field, it’s not just a matter of Brendan Maher and Dan McCormack, the county players.”

If there’s one area Ballygunner will surely have the trump card, though, it’s experience. “Having experience is great, but part of the benefit of that experience is realising that every day is a different day.

“Having reached the pitch in the past is no guarantee, you have to bring it in a challenging environment, and I don’t doubt that Páirc Uí Rinn will be a challenging environment on Sunday.

“The fact that we’re playing in Cork rather than Thurles, say ... that won’t have an impact, I think. We do the exact same thing in terms of preparation on the day, in this case the only real change will involve the timing of the journey, when we meet and so on.”

Experience means dealing with adversity as well. O’Sullivan’s views on Ballygunner’s injuries is a case in point.

We’re still not sure, to be honest, about a couple of lads. Conor Power and Peter Hogan are the two big worries at the moment — they wouldn’t have done a full session yet, so it’s very uncertain.

“Given how long the season’s gone on, I suppose it’s not too bad, and we’re not absolutely ruling them out yet. Looking at Conor, in particular, he was very influential last year, it’s just that he got injured at the wrong time — the team got settled at the wrong time for him. As I say, we’re still very hopeful they’ll make it. The last day against Patrickswell, for instance, we thought Conor would be fit enough to play but he just pulled up beforehand, the morning of the game.

“That’s how quickly things change, but you just have to deal with it.”

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