For a generation of Cork football supporters their red five was Ciarán O’Sullivan.
From 1993-2004 he soldiered for the county, winning five Munster titles although an All-Ireland remained elusive, with final defeats in 1993 and ’99. While his final appearance, against Fermanagh in ’04, came at centre-forward, it was at right-half back that he made his name, winning an All-Star in 1999. Last winter, when the official Cork website ran a poll to find the best 15 Rebels never to win an All-Ireland, he received 78% of the half-back vote.
Now, the Urhan clubman is back on the inter-county scene as a selector along with Ronan McCarthy, Owen Sexton and Don Davis under new manager Brian Cuthbert. Despite business commitments with his company Beara Oil, a young family and the four-hour round trip from his home to Cork city, he was happy to come on board.
“I was actually doing a call in Minehane’s, the accountants in Ballylickey. I had a hose over my shoulder going around the corner of the house when the phone rang and it was Brian.
“That was a Friday and Urhan were playing in the county U14 final on the Sunday. I said I was delighted to get the phone call and it was great to be asked but I’d need the weekend to think about it.
“Geraldine and my three children, Ciara will be 16 this year and she’ll be doing exams, Ciarán will be 14 and Alan will be 11. For me to be taking off on a Wednesday evening at 5pm and coming home at around 11.20pm, I had think about it because I would be a family man.
“Geraldine is 100% behind it and has always been. I don’t think we’d be together at all if it was an issue because this has been going on for years and years and years.
“The business has been going for 13 years and it’s going well, touch wood, but you have to work at it. I work every second Saturday but I have a very good worker with me, Declan O’Neill, we combine very well together. They would have been the two huge things and I said that to Brian and he understood 100%.”
O’Sullivan had some experience of being a selector with the Beara divisional side and also trained Urhan – incidentally, he got a text during the week informing him of junior B training starting again – but this is new territory, as it is for all the selectors barring McCarthy, who was involved with Conor Counihan’s management team last year.
What is not new is the trek to Cork, which measures about 130km from his front door, even if he didn’t have to do it for all of his playing career.
“I was in Cork for a lot of it,” he said, “I was living in Douglas so it was a case of ‘I’ll be there in 20 minutes’!
“I won’t say it was easy, but once you get it into your mind that if this is what you want to do, you have to allow the time. I factored it into my day, and I’m lucky enough in working for myself that you can work around things.
“Some of the time Andrew O’Sullivan is with me, though it’s rare we get to travel together as our schedules mightn’t allow it. On Wednesday night, he trained and I was there at the training and we were home at quarter to 12. Would I say that’s easy? No, but he’s prepared to do it and I’m prepared to do it so we just move on.”
On the training field, O’Sullivan is still adapting, but enjoying it.
“The majority of the lads I wouldn’t know, so that has been the biggest challenge.
“It’s not a case of turning up to training and sitting in the seat watching Brian, we all have players to work with, that’s the good thing. It’s to get to know the lads and for them to be able to ask a simple question. Sometimes, and I know myself from playing, you’d be apprehensive to ask but it’s a case of ‘ask a question and be a fool for five minutes, or don’t ask and be a fool all your life’.
“It’s very important to be able to touch base with somebody, and after we analyse games, they would want feedback from us on what they could improve on.”
And, while the outside view of Cork is that they’re not going to be contenders this year, within the camp the focus is absolute.
“We’re not holding back and saying that we have years to build on this,” O’Sullivan said. “We’re training this team to win the All-Ireland. We have had retirements and new lads have come in but they’re under no illusions. I have no intention of travelling up from here just to pass the time. We’re going to go out to try and win every game, but let’s be honest, Westmeath aren’t coming to Cork on Sunday just for the fun of it either!”
Come tomorrow, when O’Sullivan is on the sideline, he’ll have no regrets about the decision to come on board, even if sacrifices have been made. He’s underage chairman of Urhan but isn’t with any specific team this year, while hobbies don’t get much of a look-in either.
“I say every year that I’m going to take up the golf,” he said. “I joined Berehaven Golf Club late last year and played a few competitions, I said: ‘I’ll join next year’. Brian’s phone call came after that, so my time for golf isn’t there! I don’t mind, the chance might never again come around, so any hobbies will have to wait for a small bit!”
Would winning an All-Ireland as a selector make up for not getting a Celtic Cross as a player?
“It could never make up for one, but it’s the next best thing,” he said. “It never keeps me awake [not to have won an All-Ireland]. Obviously, at the time it was disappointing but Jesus, I’ve had some great days out and met some fantastic people.
“I had a wonderful time with Cork, but does it bother me now? Not at all. I’ve gained so much out of being involved and what I’ve achieved with being playing with great lads up along.”
CORK (v Westmeath); K O'Halloran; J McLoughlin, E Cadogan, M Shields; J Loughrey, T Clancy, T Clancy; A Walsh, A O'Sullivan; M Collins, P Kerrigan, F Goold; D Goulding, B Hurley, D Og Hodnett.
WESTMEATH (v Cork): D Quinn; S Gilmore, K Maguire, D Dolan; J Dolan, J Gilligan, J Gonoud; D Duffy, D Corroon; G Egan, J Egan, P Sharry; K Martin, J Heslin, A Giles.