"2011 loss to Dubs worse than any horror movie" - Darran O'Sullivan
BY SHANE STAPLETON
Darran O’Sullivan openly admits that beating Dublin became an obsession for Kerry.
He recalls the tide turning between these old foes in the final minutes of the 2011 All-Ireland final, when the Kingdom let a healthy lead and the Sam Maguire Cup slip from their fingers.
Before that, the Dubs had failed to win any of the previous nine championship meetings stretching back to 1977 and had won just two of 18 going back to 1934.
Suffice it to say, the green and gold had the Indian sign over the Dubs for many moons, so the recent changeover has been tough to accept.
A Kevin McManamon goal launched that famous comeback eight years ago, a win that ended a 16-year wait for Sam for Dublin, then the St Jude’s man nailed a crucial goal in the sensational semi-final of 2013.
Jim Gavin’s charges held off their rivals in the rain-sodden final of 2015, a game that ended 0-12 to 0-9, before the capital made it four wins in a row in the 2016 semi-final.
“I think so” says O’Sullivan when asked if beating Dublin became an obsession. “When teams start winning as they do, they start to build up an aura around them. Some of it is true, some of it can be false.
“I remember when Donegal won the All-Ireland in 2012 under Jim McGuinness, there was all this talk about the training they were doing and how they were the fittest. I was talking to one of their players and half of what was said wasn’t true.
“But it seeps into your beliefs, the idea that they’re doing this and doing that. Doubts creep in.”
O’Sullivan, who retired from Kerry duty last winter after first joining the panel for the 2005 season, knows that the finale of the 2011 decider was a sliding doors moment.
Win, and this blue wave might never have crashed over football and Kerry might have won more than just the single All-Ireland (2014) they have landed in the past decade.
“It was that last five minutes or so of the game” explains the 2011 All Star. “When you’re used to beating someone, you have this confidence that you will see it out when it’s a tight game. The seeds of doubt will come out and you’ll get the win.
“In those few minutes, they kept going, and I think they had a few fortunate calls and they ended up beating us. It gave huge belief to their young team and that’s all they needed, because they had never experienced it before. If we had of held on in 2011, you never know what would have happened since.
“You could play the end to that game 100 times, and we would only have lost it once” he adds. “We were a team that was good at keeping the ball. They got the breaks, the goal, and we didn’t get a free that should have been given.
“I’ve never watched the game back and I never will. I just couldn’t, it would be worse than watching any horror movie. I don’t think I was ever as low after a game.
“I remember sitting on the pitch thinking ‘what’s after happening here?’. I think there’s a picture of me and Jack O’Connor (Kerry manager) is coming over and giving me a pat, we both look dumbfounded as if ‘how did we end up in this position?’.”
“We never talked about that game. It’s one we put to the backs of our minds.”
O’Sullivan feels that luck deserted Kerry at times, and certainly the 2013 clash falls into that category. As the clock moved towards injury time, his teammate Declan O’Sullivan from Dromid Pearses had a chance to level the game but missed narrowly, and moments later Dublin nailed a decisive goal.
All the while, the Glenbeigh-Glencar man is keen to point out that the Dubs have earned their place at the top and deserve the spoils. The 2015 game was a dog-fight and then in 2016 the Kingdom seemed to have the blues and their goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton rattled.
“I tore my quad after three or four minutes of that game, got the goal, and had it strapped up at half time” he recalls. “I went up for a hop ball then and tore it more, and Kieran Donaghy had to go off too. So that’s two experienced players who know how to get over the line in games off together, another bit of luck going against us.”
“I do think the tide will turn again” says O’Sullivan of the rivalry. “Kerry are in a great position now and are possibly in a final a year or two ahead of schedule, which is brilliant.”
“I absolutely hate being a fan, I don’t know how to do it. I went straight into the panel out of minor in 2005, I was doing my Leaving Cert when I went in. I had to pack it in because life takes over — I’m married, have kids, work.”
“When the body is feeling good, you think ‘Jesus’ and you’d miss the craic of the dressing-room, but I couldn’t do it anymore. I’m excited for the lads - Peter Keane has gone in and there is a confidence in the group.”
O’Sullivan won four All-Ireland medals during his career, including one as captain in 2009, collected ten Munster Championship medals, and won the league on three occasions. He knows that the prospect of winning five-in-a-row will create its own pressure for these Dublin players, and insists we must wait to see how they react to it.
“They are arguably the greatest team we have ever seen in GAA” says O’Sullivan, whose county were denied five successive titles by Offaly in 1982. “No one in Kerry wants to see them do it, but I don’t think it would be any worse just because it’s against Kerry. No one wants to lose to their rival anyway.”
“I don’t think they have any major weaknesses” he says when asked where Kerry can target. “I think we are strongest when we attack. David Clifford and Sean O’Shea are great talents, but Paul Geaney is still among the best in the game. Stephen O’Brien has been unstoppable at times, so Kerry should concentrate on this part of the game.”
“Why sit back and invite a team on? You're taking away from the best aspect of your own game if you do. When you focus too much on the strengths of the team you’re against, that makes them stronger. You’re there talking about how good they are at this and that and getting it into your own head. So, go at them instead, where you can hurt them. That’s what got you here.”
In the heel of the hunt, Kerry are seen as outsiders and O’Sullivan agonises over the potential match-ups, unsure of who exactly will pick up Con O’Callaghan, Paul Mannion, Ciaran Kilkenny and Co. He does think that Gavin White could look to tie down Jack McCaffrey, as Paddy Durcan of Mayo did so well in the semi-final.
Even so, the Glenbeigh-Glencar man knows it is a huge ask for this young Kingdom side to usurp a seasoned bunch of Dubs.
“The first half wasn’t great against Tyrone but Peter Keane got his tactics right in the second half, the subs made a difference, and they kept trying and got the win” he says.
“Players weren’t afraid to keep taking shots on, and to go at their men. That’s how they have to attack this final, not being afraid to make mistakes.
“The concern is that the Dublin team are further down the road, and maybe some of the Kerry players need another year or two to get to that same physical level.
“This will be their stage for the next ten years” he says of the young players in green and gold. “This game won’t define them. You just never know, and we have to see how Dublin react to the pressure too.”