- Lifestyle & Sports
- 05 Jun 18
With the GAA football championship on the horizon, Kerry star Darran O’Sullivan chats about the county’s influx of young guns – including the game’s hottest young talent, David Clifford – as well as their prospects for the year, their rivalry with Dublin, and his excitement about the forthcoming campaign.
The introduction of the new Super 8s series means the GAA football championship commences earlier than ever this year, with the mouthwatering May clashes between Tyrone-Monaghan and Mayo-Galway among the initial highlights.
All four counties will have designs on Sam in 2018, as will the game’s aristocrats, Kerry. The Kingdom had a solid if unspectacular spring, comfortably maintaining their Division 1 status in the National League, although not retaining the title they won in dramatic fashion last year when defeating Dublin in a pulsating final in Croke Park.
The big talking point from their campaign was the introduction of a raft of young stars from the county’s recent minor teams, who won a remarkable four-in-a-row of All Irelands from 2014-17. Particular attention was paid to the extravagantly talented corner forward David Clifford – who scored four goals in the Kerry minors’ comprehensive dismissal of Derry in last year’s decider – and stylish playmaker Sean O’Shea.
A glut of injuries, retirements, suspensions and rest periods meant that many of Kerry’s more senior players were unavailable throughout the spring, leading to the new generation being introduced en masse. Among the veterans absent for the campaign was dynamic half-forward Darran O’Sullivan, who captained Kerry to the All Ireland in 2009.
Nonetheless, O’Sullivan is chomping at the bit as the championship looms into view (Kerry’s opening game taking place against Clare on June 3 in Killarney), acknowledging that the new recruits in the Kerry squad make these exciting times.
“In a lot of the bigger counties, you get these periods of transition,” notes O’Sullivan. “You’re just hoping to get a couple of players coming through. We’re lucky enough that at the moment, it’s looking very exciting. We have the young lads in, and the likes of David and Seanie are top prospects. There are a lot more of them as well, which is good – it freshens up the whole dressing room.
“There is that youthful exuberance; they’ve won All Irelands at underage and they don’t have any fear. It’s all about playing for Kerry and they know what it’s like to win.”
Clifford’s stellar performances at minor level and glimpses of brilliance this spring have resulted in some giddy talk of him eventually joining the ranks of iconic Kerry players like Colm Cooper and Maurice Fitzgerald, although O’Sullivan cautions against fans and pundits heaping too much pressure on his young shoulders.
“In the era we’re in, you can’t really hide from it on social media,” says O’Sullivan. “But I’ve gotten to know him over the last while, and he’s a very level-headed young lad. Obviously, he has all the talent in the world, but that’s no guarantee of anything. He seems like a fella who’s willing to work hard, so hopefully it’ll come for him. The management and the players know that we have to mind him a small bit, because social media can be a bit over the top at times.
“He’s going to make mistakes and it’s not always going to be plain sailing. He has all the ability to go as far as he wants, but a lot of it comes down to how bad you want it. Time will tell, but I’ve no doubt he can go as far as he wants in the game.”
Certainly, a combination of Clifford, Paul Geaney and former footballer of the year James O’Donoghue gives Kerry a potentially sensational full forward line. Further back, with O’Shea pulling the strings at 11 and older players like O’Sullivan and star midfielder David Moran still to return, Kerry’s front eight is shaping up very nicely.
“On papers, things looking very good, although it doesn’t always work out that way,” cautions O’Sullivan. “You don’t know how things will pan out with injuries, form, suspensions and so on. But the more fellas we have chomping at the bit, looking after the body and feeling good, the better it’s going to be for Kerry. But you just never know. And you’ll have one or two surprise names getting in there as well.
“There’s obviously a lot of players available at the moment, which is great, and by the time the championship rolls around and the injuries have cleared up, things are hopefully going to be looking good.”
Surveying the football landscape ahead of the summer, there’s no doubt that Jim Gavin’s Dublin cast a very large shadow. The boys in blue are looking to claim Sam for the fourth consecutive time – a feat which hasn’t been managed since Mick O’Dwyer’s great Kerry team did it from 1978-81. Notably, Kerry’s league final win last year is one of just two big games the Dubs have lost in Gavin’s five-year tenure (the other being the All Ireland semi-final in 2014, when a tactical masterclass from Jim McGuinness resulted in Donegal pulling off a spectacular ambush.
For counties like Kerry, Mayo and Tyrone, figuring out a way around the Dubs is likely to be a major challenge later in the summer.
“There’s no denying it, they’re a step or two ahead of most teams at the moment,” Darran acknowledges. “The challenge for everyone is to try and up their game a small bit, and make it as competitive as they can. Fair play to Dublin – they’ve kicked it on and maintained their hunger, which is a massive achievement itself. It’s up to everyone to push the boat out. Dublin go and attack the game, play to their strengths and don’t worry too much about the opposition.
“You have to give credit to them. It’s up to everyone else to concentrate on their own strong points and hopefully on the day, they can push them.”
Dublin and Kerry’s league encounter in Tralee back in the spring of 2017 proved a spicy encounter, to such an extent that the Kingdom’s manager, Eamonn Fitzmaurice, addressed the fallout before that season’s league final rematch. Fitzmaurice felt some commentators had made out Kerry’s approach to be overly physical, while also noting that Dublin themselves are a team with a seriously hard edge.
“I remember the hullabaloo,” says Darran. “The first match was physical, and no game can be physical with just one team. If it’s a physical game, it means both teams are at it. If you look at any of the top teams in any sport, they always have that hard edge – and you need it to be successful. We’ll hopefully bringing a bit of it this year; Dublin obviously have it. We’ve had it at different times, but it’s about being consistent. There’s nothing wrong with being physical.
“Like I said, if you look at any of the top teams around the world, in any sport – they have that hard edge. They’re willing to push the boundaries as much as they can without going over the limit.”
In the noughties, of course, O’Sullivan’s Kerry team had some mighty tussles with Mickey Harte’s Tyrone, who won three All Irelands between 2003 and ’08. Where does the current Dublin team rank in terms of the best sides he’s played against?
“They’re definitely the best team I’ve played against,” he replies. “The Tyrone team of the noughties were obviously very strong, but the Dublin have done something Tyrone didn’t do, and that’s win it again the following year. They’ve pushed the boat out again, but you’d have to put them top of the pile. Obviously that Tyrone team was very good as well, but this Dublin side just seem to be a step ahead.”
Another GAA controversy flared up at the end of last year around Colm Cooper’s testimonial dinner, with some commentators – including Joe Brolly – unhappy that the Kerry legend was benefiting financially from the occasion, although over half of the proceeds went to charity.
O’Sullivan himself was present at the dinner and says he can see more players having such an evening when their careers come to an end.
“It was a great night,” he says. “The more fellas that have nights like that, the better for them and for everyone. To be honest, I couldn’t see the problem with it and I still can’t. You’re always going to have begrudgers everywhere, I think most of them just like to be heard. There are players from other counties who’ve had very good careers, and I’d be surprised if they didn’t have something like that. Charities did very well out of it too.
“A lot of fellas put so much into it, so if they want to have a night like that, why not?”
Away from the field, in recent times Darran has opened the Rosspoint pub in Kerry, which has predictably proved a big hit both with locals and football enthusiasts from around the country.
“We opened in Easter of last year,” he explains. “It’s sort of a seasonal spot, so we’ll be open throughout the summer. A lot of the locals were delighted to see it back open. We’re just off the Ring of Kerry, on Rossbeigh Beach, so we have a lot of tourists. It was a big change for us, it was something we’d never been involved in before, so there were some big tests.
“But it’s been going good, and we’ll be looking to push it on another bit this year. It’s hard to get better views anywhere – you’re literally looking out on the ocean. It is really a tourist-y spot, but obviously we do get a big football crowd as well. A lot of south Kerry teams pass by and they’ve all stopped in. And football fans from around the country who are holidaying in Kerry will call in too. We’ve a nice few a football pictures up around the place; the bar is quite football-orientated and then the restaurant is totally different.”
Have they had in any big GAA names from around the country?
“I had Finian Hanley and Michael Meehan from Galway down,” says Darran. “John Power from Kilkenny too. In fairness, the Kerry boys have always been a big help – whenever they’re passing through, they’d always stop in, and everyone came out after the Munster final last year.”
Born in London, during his youth, Darran – a Man Utd fan – actually spent a couple of years with QPR.
“I was part of their school of excellent from age ten,” he says. “I had the dream every young fella has, that I’d be gracing the Premiership at some stage. I was with them for two years, and I was lucky enough to get that opportunity. I don’t think it means I would have made it into the Premiership or anything, but it was a good experience to have when I was young.”
And finally, of course, we have to ask about Darran’s musical taste.
“I’m very much into Irish music,” he enthuses. “The Coronas would be a big favourite of mine, and I’m also into Picture This and Walking On Cars. At one point, it was annual thing for me to go and see The Coronas at the INEC in Killarney, although I’ve missed it the last couple of years. I did get to see Picture This there last Christmas and they were outstanding.
“To be honest, I don’t get to too many, because you have to be organised to get to the shows, and I have to organise my life a lot around football and the bar. But if I can get something at the last minute, I’ll always go.”
- Lifestyle & Sports
- 22 Jun 17