O’Sullivan has vital role to play against Mayo in semi-final

Eamonn Fitzmaurice will keep the three-time All Star as an option in All-Ireland clash

Declan O’Sullivan: Kerry have put legs before experience and are keeping the long-serving forward in reserve for tomorrow’s All-Ireland SFC semi-fnal against Mayo at Croke Park. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Declan O’Sullivan: Kerry have put legs before experience and are keeping the long-serving forward in reserve for tomorrow’s All-Ireland SFC semi-fnal against Mayo at Croke Park. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Sun, Aug 24, 2014, 06:00

In the couple of summers since Eamonn Fitzmaurice pulled up the drawbridge around Fitzgerald Stadium, Kerry football has become even more of a wall of whispers than it ever was.

As soon as the side to face Mayo was announced on Thursday night, the beaters were sent into the thickest grass to drive out the plumpest game.

The lamest rumours were killed off before they reached any altitude.

The notion of a dummy team was briefly raised before being quashed as most unKerry-like.

There was word that Declan O’Sullivan had suffered a bad hamstring tear either in or since the Galway game but that too has been dismissed.

The most concrete information is it is what it looks like – Fitzmaurice and his selectors have decided to keep O’Sullivan back for the last 20 minutes of the game and finish the afternoon with their best team on the pitch.

For anyone in doubt as to the level of punt they’re taking, it’s worth sketching out just how unwilling Kerry have been to try out this manoeuvre in the 11 years O’Sullivan has been in the green and gold. By not starting tomorrow, he brings an end to a 38-match streak going all the way back to the 2008 Munster final.

Injury

Declan O’Sullivan doesn’t sit out games. That Munster final in 2008 was missed through injury – he was back the next day against Monaghan and hasn’t missed a start since.

In 2006, Jack O’Connor famously took him out of the team for a while mid-summer to shield him from abuse from the stands but used him off the bench each time.

In 2004, as a 20-year-old, he lost his place for a couple of games to Liam Hassett but was back in for the All Ireland series.

That’s it. That’s the list.

Since he first came up straight out of minor in 2003, Kerry have played 70 championship games; O’Sullivan has started 64 of them. Colm Cooper started 66 in time, Marc Ó Sé 65, Tomás Ó Sé 63.

He has always been there, wallpapering one of the greatest periods in Kerry history and sticking on right through the refurbishment.

Until now. Fitzmaurice has taken a look at his bout with Father Time and decided O’Sullivan is behind on all judges’ cards.

Though still only 30, his knees these days carry strapping not seen in Croke Park since Colm O’Rourke was dodging the reaper’s scythe all those years ago.

But they say the last thing a boxer loses is his punch. If so, Kerry want to keep it back for the closing rounds tomorrow.

“They think that they can get more out of him coming off the bench,” says former Kerry captain Dara Ó Cinnéide.

“Where can he help us most? Given his experience, he’s able to sit in the stands and read the game and decide what’s needed when he goes in.

“It’s a good move, I think, provided the game is tight when he’s coming on. He can’t be coming on as a bit of a fire brigade effort.”

That’s the risk Fitzmaurice looks willing to take. Legs over experience.

O’Sullivan has played 30 games for Kerry in Croke Park. The six named forwards for tomorrow have played 23 between them. Take out Donnchadh Walsh and the number drops to 10, including two first-timers last day out and another one tomorrow.

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