O’Sullivan was a selector alongside boss Kieran Kingston, as the Rebels moved two points clear in the third quarter of the All-Ireland semi-final tie at Croke Park.
However, a combination of losing Damien Cahalane to a 52nd-minute red card, Waterford’s attacking wizardry and, according to O’Sullivan, questionable management decisions all conspired against Cork. Ultimately, they fell to a 4-19 to 0-20 defeat and their
13-year wait for a Liam MacCarthy Cup win continues.
“There was a great opportunity there,” said O’Sullivan of 2017. “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. 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.
“It was just one of these things that happened with the way the pace of the game was going. He got a second yellow card and, okay, Damien made a mistake, 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 to the period of taking him off him.
“Should we just go 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 to consolidate and maybe get the ball down the field and win a free, go three points ahead or four points?
“But we changed with taking Stephen off Austin and we went six on six at that stage. Maybe it was a mistake on our behalf, we should have taken a punt with four forwards and kept an extra man at the back, where it got us. We can only learn.”
Asked if those incidents haunt him when he reflects on the game and the season, O’Sullivan nodded.
“They would, yeah,” he admitted. “When you sit down and look at it, previous to that it was obvious that Waterford’s ploy was to take Damien away from the square. He’d been really defending that area for us all year and you could see in periods of the game they were dragging him out and moving him in.
“I remember a couple of minutes beforehand turning to Kieran and I said: ‘Jesus, Damien is a long way out the field.’ They were after isolating Colm [Spillane] inside. I said: ‘Okay, the next break in play we are going to change it.’
“But Damien was after getting sucked in, and he had the yellow card already 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 our fault as anyone else’s. Damien just committed a foul and it was a yellow card and that was it.”
O’Sullivan said it was a tough but ultimately correct decision by Cork’s management to go with youth in last year’s championship.
He said the influx of fresh talent helped to revive the spirit of a panel that had been heavily criticised in previous seasons.
“They were sick of being battered really,” said ‘The Rock’, a three-time All-Ireland winner between 1999 and 2005. “A lot of lads were sick of being battered by Cork people and from the media down through the years."
“It was: ‘Jesus, this has happened again. Cork have 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 tried to be positive in every thing we did, no matter what it was. We got the maximum out of it.
"Pat Horgan reinvented himself, Conor Lehane, Damien Cahalane had a wonderful year for us, Christopher Joyce. We got some big, big performances out of players who had been substandard up to that.”
The former full-back admitted it was tough to walk away from the ambitious young group when Kingston stood down, but said he did so out of loyalty after being handpicked to join the setup.
“Very hard, given the age profile of the team, and we won arguably the best Munster title that was won in a long time.”
Diarmuid O’Sullivan is a Paddy Power GAA Hurling ambassador and will feature as a regular columnist on Paddy Power News throughout the championship.