Truth be told, Darran O’Sullivan was surprised he started the semi-final against Clare. To be taken off at half-time wasn’t all that earth-shattering.
To be dropped for tomorrow would have been disappointing but if his Twitter activity this week is anything to go by he was over it almost as soon as Eamonn Fitzmaurice announced Donnchadh Walsh was in for him.
The 28-year-old knows he’s not yet firing on all cylinders. Having for so many years dodged injury like he would an unsuspecting defender, he has come face-to-face with a series of setbacks in recent times.
After his hip surgery late last year, he was slowly building his way back to full fitness in the league when he tore his hamstring in the final round game against Cork in Tralee. That would have been fine had he not then hurt his groin lining out for Mid Kerry a few weeks later.
Against Clare, he was almost through on goal early on before he was hauled down and later struck the post. In the eyes of a neutral, he wasn’t faring so badly but he would be a harsher critic of himself.
“To be honest, starting was a bit of a bonus. I talked to Eamonn about how long I’d get. I wasn’t exactly entirely happy with how I played anyway. I was struggling to get into it at times. I was lost at times and I was out on my feet to be honest, because I was only just back.
“I’ve another good bit done since then. Would I have wanted to stay on? Obviously I would. I got 35 minutes I didn’t expect to get.”
He takes comfort from knowing he’s a quick healer but he has the other hip to get sorted too. It’s the joints that have caused him so much bother, but a conversation with Leinster and Ireland rugby international Sean O’Brien after his first hip operation gave him a new lease of confidence.
“I was still on the crutches and I just started chatting to him and we were on about the hip and he just goes ‘You’ll feel it for a year, you’ll get niggles, you’ll get twinges, you’ll get aches and pains, but it’s all part and parcel of it’. To be honest, it was an ease to me to hear it because when these things happen you’re like ‘aaagh’, but you go ‘look, it happens’.
“The body can’t take all this punishment all the time. You just have to be careful and mind it. I’m only 28. I have, I’d hope anyway, a good bit more to go. The belts that I take and the way I move obviously, it gets it going alright.
But the pain and the toil flitter away when he considers the cause. Kerry might be at a crossroads but he has full faith they remain on the right path.
“I wouldn’t be going through these aches and pains if there wasn’t belief. Nobody goes through that sort of work to lose. I wouldn’t be sitting here in front of ye if I didn’t believe we would win.”
Still, the bus on the N22 tomorrow morning will be a slightly unusual place to O’Sullivan. For years he could look down the aisle and the backs of Paul Galvin and Tomás Ó Sé’s heads would be as recognisable to him as their faces. Colm Cooper’s too. Now they’re absent.
“You’d ponder away with your own thoughts but you’d know where Tomás would be, you’d know where Paul would be, you’d know where Gooch sits, where Declan sits. You know where all these fellas sit and you’d always look to the older fellas, Mahony would be up there… so it’s going to be strange on the way in.
“With the group I came into and that I spent most of my career with, coming into games there was an air of inevitability about what the team was going to be. It’s very competitive in there at the moment.”
Those like O’Sullivan who were involved in April’s “maddening” thumping in Tralee will be aiming to make amends tomorrow. Winning the last Munster final in the current Páirc Uí Chaoimh would do that in spades.
“It’d be nice to put a bit of a dampener on their farewell party. They’re going very well at the moment. Brian Cuthbert showed a lot of steel and nerve to make big changes and at the moment they seem to be paying dividends.
“Even if it wasn’t their last game there, they’re going to want to win the Munster final at home. That’s still one of my biggest fears in football: losing a Munster final in Killarney, so I’m pretty sure it’d be the same for the Cork boys.”
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