The Blackrock End wasn’t always so receptive to Paudie O’Sullivan, you know.
The Cork sub sniped the match-winning goal at the altar of the Rebels’ favoured terrace on Sunday, the 8,000 or so Cork supporters crushed into the Blackrock End exploding into life. A childhood fantasy realised. A fitting conclusion to a remarkable story of fight and perseverance.
Paudie O’Sullivan, you see, is more accustomed to a quieter, more tame Blackrock End, far removed from the colour and chaos of Munster final Sunday.
The tale of his injury woes is well recounted by this juncture; fractured tibia and fibula in April of 2013, the fibula failing to recover following surgery, so he went under the knife for a second time last November. Further problems ensued. One of the pins in his leg became infected and O’Sullivan returned to hospital in January.
“It was a very lonely road back for me. It is a long distance back to last winter when I was running around the steps of this stadium with our physio Declan O’Sullivan, lashing wind, rain and everything else,” says O’Sullivan.
“To be in the situation we are in now, with the Munster trophy on board, I certainly couldn’t have dreamed of that back then.
“When one of the pins became infected, I spent the best part of two weeks in hospital in Dublin all on my own with no one around me, no friends or family. That was probably the toughest part of my life, not knowing would I make it back. I keep referring to Dr Con Murphy and Declan, but not once did they give up on me. They never lost faith.”
Did Paudie lose faith though? “I did. Those two weeks in Dublin not knowing when I was getting out of hospital, not knowing fully why I was in there in the first place. It is a long way from home and not knowing anyone, no one really coming to visit because I was telling them not to bother, telling them that I would be home tomorrow. The longer and longer it went on, unfortunately that wasn’t the case.
“Once I got back to Cork and got back to Declan O’Sullivan, anything he could do to help me, and Dr Con, they did. I am fortunate to have the two of them.”
Surely such an experience spawned a changed outlook on life and his favoured sport? “Of course it did. It wasn’t so much a hurling scare as a life scare. It put everything in perspective. Sitting up on the hospital bed, now I know there was people much worse off than me, but it got back my love for hurling. It took me back to my childhood. When I was lying on that bed what I wouldn’t have given to be out on the training pitch with the lads. To be back here now four months later is a dream come true.” And what a return to Páirc Uí Chaoimh it would prove. His first touch heralded Cork’s 13th point of the tie. Then on 64 minutes, Daniel Kearney launched a probing delivery into the Limerick danger area. O’Sullivan gathered, turned and bang.
“Going back to your childhood when you are four or five, pucking around in the garden, that is the kind of moment you wouldn’t even imagine: scoring a goal in the Munster final in front of a packed Blackrock End. It was an absolutely amazing experience. It was the perfect ball in from Danny so it was just get the ball and take it from there.
“That is the confidence Jimmy Barry-Murphy has in us. He tells each one of us to go out and express ourselves. He has full faith in anything we try to do. If it goes wrong, and it did go wrong plenty of times today, he has no hassle with that. He is a hurling man true and true and he wants us playing the right way.”
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