Darran O’Sullivan still a willing slave to his beloved trade
Kerry forward has no regrets about giving up his job to concentrate on his football career
Kerry’s Darran O’Sullivan finds the back of the net in the All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin last summer. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
In the two and a bit years since Darran O’Sullivan decided to jack in the day job he can count on one hand the number of times he’s missed it. That’s if he holds up his thumb and index finger and makes the symbol for zero.
Still, he admits some people thought he was mad – giving up what was effectively a job for life with Ulster Bank in Dublin in order to pay more attention to his career as a Kerry footballer. Only O’Sullivan knew he’d have “cracked” if he didn’t.
It’s also gently ironic that at a time when intercounty players are considered by some to be a slave to their trade, O’Sullivan felt like a slave to the wage, and still sees football as the single most enjoyable thing in his life.
“Nobody is putting a gun to my head,” he says, “asking me to do something I don’t want to. I do it because I enjoy it, and because I want to be successful with Kerry.
“Of course things have changed. The commitment has gone up. But the mentality has changed too. Players want to be fit, strong, competitive. They want to push themselves harder all the time. And I can’t speak on behalf of the country, but from a Kerry point of view, we’re being looked after as best we can, have nothing to complain about.”
So what about those certain columnists who consider modern Gaelic football boring, or at least nowhere near as much fun as it used to be?
“Ah, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Sure I’ll probably be saying the same myself in a few years.”
Not that he’s been concentrating solely on his football career, or indeed been in any way idle: he’s two years into his role as an athlete mentor with the Sky Living for Sport initiative, a position he took up not long after leaving Ulster Bank; he’s also about to open a pub and restaurant at home in Glenbeigh, along with his father, which may eventually become the full-time business in itself.
“Maybe when I started the Sky mentor, I got a bit of stick because people didn’t really know what it was, that it wasn’t seen as ‘nine-to-five’. But it’s been great, just getting young people come up to you in a school, after a talk, or maybe got them to think about their own career.
“I’d been with the bank a number of years, and if it’s in your own town and that’s what you want to do, of course it’s fine. But to progress more I’d have to travel more, and I didn’t see myself wanting to do that. I don’t mind travelling with this, but it’s more about enjoying it, going into work with a smile on your face, and coming out with a smile on your face. And maybe making a difference. Instead of just doing it for the sake of a job.
“And my injuries were nearly always niggles that I didn’t look after properly, nothing major. So it’s about looking after myself a little better. I can focus on the job and base the timetable and the training around that. Like, trying not to travel on the days I’m going training.”
At 30, and with four All-Ireland titles since joining the Kerry panel in 2005, some people might also consider O’Sullivan’s best years to be behind him – but again he begs to differ. Last year was in fact his most productive in years, O’Sullivan starting in all of Kerry’s championship games, and all but one in the league. The closely fought All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Dublin has also left him hungry for plenty more, not that he even once considered retirement.
“Some people who don’t know how old you are ask ‘oh, will you stay on another year?’ But I absolutely still get the enjoyment out of it, love the Kerry set-up, the team mentality, and the bond that comes with that. When you’re successful you enjoy that even more of course. And even when you’re not, that’s when you have to dig that bit deeper, and that’s where the hunger comes in.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’ll keep going as long as you can. When you hit 30 it is all about the body, but right now the body feels better than it has in a while, and hopefully that will continue.”
Starting with Sunday’s All-Ireland junior club semi-final, where his club, Glenbeigh-Glencar, face Mayo champions Louisburg: “We wouldn’t know a whole pile about them, and likewise them about us. They are obviously there on merit too, so it’s about going out, doing ourselves justice, playing to the best of our ability. But it’s our first time out of Kerry, it’s been brilliant for the club, all new, massive for us.”
Win or lose on Sunday, with the final to play or not, O’Sullivan will be back with Kerry as soon as he can: the retirement of Aidan O’Mahony and Marc Ó Sé removes two considerable presences from the dressing-room, although the addition of Maurice Fitzgerald will certainly help fill any void.
“I’ve been with the club the last few weeks, so haven’t really had the chance to train with Kerry, but if Maurice says ‘jump’, my first question would be ‘how high?’ We’ve a great manager, a great backroom team at the moment, and I think he’ll bring a whole lot more to the table.
“There’s a load of leaders still, yeah. You’ll never replace those players but someone else will step up, bring their own spell of leadership. I think the depth in Kerry is actually stronger than it’s been for a long time, the number of players coming through. They’ve no fear, that young talent, and hopefully they can step up to the mark.
“With Dublin last year, it was just a few little things between us, like us making changes earlier than we would have wanted. It’s just a matter of sticking to what we’re doing. The belief is still there. We’re as confident as any team.”