Kevin Jer O’Sullivan: An All-Star driving force on stylish Cork team

It’s the season for All-Star quibbling and controversy, page-filling gifts that date to the very first awards, in 1971.

Cork team v Galway 1973: Kevin Jer O'Sullivan, (front row, third from left). Picture: Connolly Collection

That year, attacking Cork half-back Kevin Jer O’Sullivan was the cause célèbre, a notable omission after the Rebels had dismantled Kerry by 11 points in the Munster final at the Cork Athletic Grounds, an afternoon on which his personal exhibition took in the landing of two 50s.

Many of these perceived wrongs tend to right themselves and O’Sullivan had only 12 months to wait.

“’71 was the best year I had playing football. We hammered Kerry in the Park. In ’72 we were beaten in the Munster Final, but because of people writing about it in the paper and whatnot, I got it in ’72. I was the only Corkman.

“It was a huge thing. You didn’t know you were on the team until it came up on the television. On a Monday night, quarter to seven, Mick Dunne.

“I was down in Glengarriff — myself and a friend went in to watch it — when I saw my picture and name up. We celebrated it well anyway.”

O’Sullivan was honoured again the following year when Cork won the All-Ireland and was later recognised on the Cork team of the century.

Tomorrow night, the Adrigole stalwart will be feted among a host of old friends and colleagues in Glengarriff, where he will be added to the All-Ireland Hall of Fame.

And they will relive the day Galway were beaten and Cork ended a 28-year wait for another football crown.

“We had a great outfit. Great footballers. The comradeship and the friendship on that team…

“We got together that February and (coach) Donie O’Donovan said we’re starting from here and we’re going to win the All-Ireland. It was the first time we had a team that could score. Cork always had good backs but forwards were the problem. But we were a stylish team.”

A team that restored glamour to the less fashionable code on Leeside.

“It was so long since we had won it, it was a fantastic homecoming, 50,000 people. They always said football was the second relation, hurling the first love. But that kind of changed in our time. The hurlers that played with us were nearly happier to win a football because it was so long.”

Maybe a hunger was sated. Or maybe they just ran into two of the greatest teams in the game’s history.

“The only disappointing thing was that we didn’t go along and win a few more. But if you’re waiting for so many years for something and it comes…

“It’s a pity because there was a lot of that team that was forgotten about who could have been playing for years afterwards, just because of ’74.

“A great Dublin team beat us in the championship. We were more or less led to believe we’d only have to go up and tog out. Before we knew where we were they had us blown away.”

Then the Kingdom reasserted themselves in the ’75 Munster final.

“I won’t be telling you any lie that I was a lot happier to be watching them afterwards, Pat Spillane and those fellas.

“I marked Pat and Ger Power. They were great footballers. Lightning fast.

“But I never agreed with their throwing and palming the ball. It was a killer for a back. Two fellas running at you. And throwing it over your head and then palming it into the net.”

He won more or less every honour the game offers, Beara’s county senior win over UCC in 1967 a highlight, and the Munster club title that followed. Captaining his beloved Adrigole to Cork intermediate title in 1979 was special. Though four county junior final defeats rankle still.

’73 capped it all, though the relief and joy is hazy, after a bang on the head in the final minutes. There were no return to play protocols.

“There was no examining you that time. We were after losing a couple of players injured so I was told keep going. I was pretty shook the next day and the next night, but I suppose there were other reasons for that too.”

More serious was the freak injury suffered training in Glengarriff in 1969.

“There was horse racing in the field the Sunday before. Manure! I dived across the goal, and there was a stone in the goal. Destroyed my knee, took away my kneecap.”

He was in hospital for 14 weeks. “I got lockjaw and tetanus,” recalls O’Sullivan.

“Not too many survive it. It was nearly the finish of me. It was an awful fright for everyone in the place.”

The ‘pocket dynamo’ recovered to play for his homeplace for another 20 years, finally calling it a day at 40.

“I would have been a hundred times happier back in my day than I would have been now.

“The speed of the game perhaps is better. But is it a better spectacle to watch? I’d have preferred our day.”

  • Kevin Jer O’Sullivan will be inducted into the All- Ireland Hall Of Fame at a special event in Eccles Hotel, Glengarriff tomorrow, September 22 at 8.30pm, with a host of special guests in attendance. Tickets cost €10 from Adrigole GAA club and local businesses.

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