O’Sullivan, who was a Cork senior selector last year, said: “Back then, they would have been one of the big teams of the time. They were always a competitive team, very committed to what they were doing.
“Playing them in Cork was daunting, playing them above in Limerick even more so, because you knew well what you were in for.
“It was never going to be easy, because of the honesty about them. Technically, some of them mightn’t have been quite at the level, but that never bothered them, because of that honesty, that commitment to the jersey.
“I always admired that about the Limerick sides we played against and this Limerick team’s the same.”
Cork collected a Munster title last year, but O’Sullivan is keen to spread the credit around for the Rebels’ progress.
“It didn’t start with us. The lads came into the senior set-up and were very technical players, they had other managers and coaches along the line and a lot of them have come through the development squad system as well, with very good coaching.
“It was only a case, then, of further enhancing their abilities. When a guy wants to learn and to progress, it’s very easy. It’s very difficult if a guy is putting on the handbrake. If players don’t fancy playing a certain way, you’ll always see it in their demeanour, in the body language. You have to be aware of that when you’re coaching: ‘I have to be aware of that. I didn’t get the full amount out of that. Let’s review it, do it in a different way and get a positive reaction.’
“Being involved with Kieran (Kingston), the two Pats (Ryan and Hartnett), John (Meyler) last year, your eyes are opened to doing things in a different way. If you want to stay involved, you must improve yourself as well, to take other opinions on board, that your way isn’t always the right way.
“It’s funny that those are small things, but once players enjoy what they’re doing you’ll get 50% more from them, while if they’re thinking, ‘what’s the reason for doing this?’ it’s not as productive.
“But, generally, players are very good to learn. The current Cork squad, certainly.”
He’s been impressed with their full-back line: “They’ve been really solid as a unit, Damien’s (Cahalane) decision-making has been really good; when to go, when not to go. Colm (Spillane) and Sean (O’Donoghue) have been attacking the ball, which is the right thing.
“If you miss it, that’s not the end of the world. If you don’t play from the front, then your man has possession anyway. They play from the front all day long and why not? Watching a full-back line attack the ball is very encouraging.”
O’Sullivan has found he has more time on his hands since stepping down from inter-county duty.
“Absolutely. It wouldn’t even stop at 20 hours a week, to be honest. It opens a whole new world.
“Now there’s a void, like the void when you stop playing for a couple of years, until you figure out what you want to do next.
“After the last couple of years with Cork, you’re facing that question again, what’s the next step regarding your own coaching and so on. You can sit back and see where you want to go.”
Cork will need to be on top form Saturday night, he adds.
“Limerick are big, strong, they’re technical and they’ll take their scores. Similar to Cork, they have lads who’ll score from 70, 80 metres.
“They’re young as well, so there’s a changing of the guard, and they’re coming off a week’s break. In 1996 and 2001 they had victories in Cork against the odds, and they’ll come now buoyed by a win in the bank. They won’t fear it.
“I don’t think there’s fear in Cork either, because, like Limerick, the age profile is quite young. They’ll hurl without constraints, without fear if they take the wrong option. You have to give them that freedom.”
The new championship format appeals to the Cloyne clubman.
“I know everyone’s been saying it, but it’s true: Players want to play games, not spend weeks and weeks training. It would have appealed to me, certainly, doing less training would have been very appealing to me, and the prospect of recovery from week to week would be great.
“The format’s certainly entitled to its three years to see how it works out, to see if it needs to be rejigged or changed. I think there’s a tendency sometimes to throw things out without giving it a fair chance.
“It asks different questions about your strength and conditioning, all those issues. I think whatever about this year, next year players and management in all counties will know an awful lot more about how to prepare for it.”