DECLAN O’SULLIVAN appreciates more than most the grounding he got in Gaelic football as a student at Coláiste na Sceilge under Jack O’Connor.
During his six years in the school, the former Kerry senior All-Ireland winning captain won two Corn Uí Mhuirí titles in 2001 and 2002 captaining the latter team.
Unfortunately an appearance in the All-Ireland final eluded him as St Pat’s (Navan) and St Jarlath’s (Galway) proved too good in the semi-finals both years.
The Dromid Pearses man regards his school years as a vital part of his development into what he is today.
“Opting to play at colleges level was the best thing the school did in my time there,” said Declan. “We had been top dog at vocational level for years and wanted a new challenge, but there was a fear that we might be out of our depth moving up.
“Fortunately we had a great crop of players at that time, many of them had opted to repeat their Leaving for the 2001 season and winning the Munster colleges at the first attempt gave us the impetus to drive on.
“Unfortunately we came a cropper against St Pats in the semi-final and after retaining our Munster title the following with the bulk of the 2001 team, hopes was high we could go one better and get to the All-Ireland final.
“In what many people regarded as one of the best ever colleges matches, we were denied that final appearance by St Jarlaths in extra time in a replay.
“They got a goal that was clearly scored inside the square while I had a goal disallowed for a similar offence. Normally when a decision like that goes against a team, you tend to get the next one, but no so then.
“That defeat was a killer blow but all credit to the school, they came back the following year to win Munster for the third year in a row only to fall at the penultimate stage again.
“Looking back now, they were great matches to be involved in. They certainly were a massive benefit to me as I made my way up the ranks onto the Kerry senior team.”
Coláiste na Sceilge are back on the All-Ireland glory trail again having won their fourth Corn Uí Mhuirí title recently and finally getting over that All-Ireland semi-final hump, and O’Sullivan has more than a passing interest in today’s final.
His brother Dominic will line out at centre back and Declan’s hopes his younger sibling can pick up that Hogan Cup medal that eluded him.
“I’ve seen most of their games this season and I have to say they have blown hot and cold,” said Declan. “They rode their luck against St Fachtna’s in the Munster semi-final and probably should have lost that game.
“However they hung in there and got the result. In the final against ISK it was more of the same, but they certainly turned it on in the All-Ireland semi-final against St Pat’s and if they can reproduce that form, I would give them a great chance of winning.
“It would be a massive boost to football in South Kerry if the college’s title is won. Already there are two All-Irelands here following the successes of Skellig Rangers (junior) and St Michael’s Foilmore (intermediate) in the club finals.
“The main thing now for the school team is to keep their feet firmly on the ground; make sure they do the basics, work hard, and keep the ball moving which they did well in the semi-final.”
From their very first game in the championship, against Cloister Christ Rí in the Legion Grounds Killarney, Na Sceilge looked the part, and while they enjoyed slices of good luck en route to today’s final, they have the players to create history.
Team coach Jack O’Connor says his side hasn’t worn the mantle of favourites well this year, and it was only in the semi-final against the defending champions St Pats (Dungannon) where they were the underdog that they “really cut loose and expressed themselves”.
“We’ll probably be favourites in the final which will add to the pressure,” said O’Connor, “but the lads are very keen and want to be the first team to bring the Hogan Cup back to the college”.
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