It wasn’t clear-cut. After this year’s All-Ireland, there were conversations about 2015, but the health of his knees was always going to be central to Declan O’Sullivan’s plans for next season.
Funnily enough, a famous Dublin GAA name intervened decisively.
“I met Declan a few weeks ago,” says Kerry manager Eamon Fitzmaurice.
“We had a good chat and left it there. He was going to think about it but he had to meet Ray Moran in Dublin to see where his knees were at, and having met Ray, it was clear it was going to be hard for him to get to the level he wanted to be at in 2015.”
Moran, of the Sports Surgery Clinic in Santry, is both the knee surgeon and Kevin Moran’s brother. His opinion of O’Sullivan’s joints means the Dromid Pearses man retires with just the five All-Ireland medals. He’ll be missed, says Fitzmaurice.
“His presence, the standards he had for himself, which were very high, and he was a great leader — he was demanding, but demanding that everyone maintain the same standards as himself.
“Because of all that, he knew how to drive the thing, he was respected by the players, and in turn that’s fantastic for a manager, to have a character like that in the dressing room.”
Though most of Kerry fretted about his knees through last season, Fitzmaurice points out the player was fine for much of the year.
“He was in great condition right up to the last minute of the game against Clare,” says Fitzmaurice.
“That’s what impacted on him for the rest of the summer, as up to then, there was nothing there that hadn’t been there before, really.
“He’d had procedures on his left knee but he got that knock on the other knee against Clare, and probably because of that, there was more stress being put on his left knee.
“Up to the Munster final he did nearly all the training, and was outstanding in that game, but after that, it was a matter of managing him to get him right for games.”
Fitzmaurice is aware of what O’Sullivan did to get himself right: “He put himself through hell to make sure he was available. Our physios, Eddie Harnett and Ger Keane, did great work with him, but he did an awful lot of one-on-one work with Padraig Corcoran as well.
“He dipped in and out of the football and I’d say that was very frustrating for him, and impacted on his role as the summer went on, but he was a key part of us winning the All-Ireland, certainly.”
He was playing a different role this year, quarterbacking games rather than slashing through from the 40 as he did in recent years.
“In my time as manager, he played corner-forward for a while last year, he played full-forward for a good part of the championship in 2013 while this year he played centre-forward but was also able to play a deeper role for us, in the Munster final and in the subsequent games.
“Certainly when he falls back in with Dromid, I could see him playing centre-back, because he’s a guy who’s great to read the game and has great vision.
“He’s a guy who likes a challenge. He enjoyed being challenged rather than being expected to do the same thing the whole time. He wasn’t selfish about his own role, he was happy to do whatever he could to help the team, basically.”
Fitzmaurice knows about those challenges, of course. When O’Sullivan fell in with Kerry, the two tussled in a lot of training games.
“As a player he was elusive, very well balanced, could kick off left and right. All the talents.
“Certainly if you were marking him in training and were able to hold him down, you knew your form was pretty good.
“He was a handful, definitely. He’s seven years younger than me, so starting out he was even more of a handful for me, but I enjoyed picking him up in training.”
There weren’t many who enjoyed that assignment.
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