Cian O'Sullivan has learned to savour the moment
By John Harrington
Cian O’Sullivan’s preparation for Sunday’s All-Ireland SFC Final will stick to the same tried and trusted routine that’s worked well for the previous five he’s contested.
Tomorrow he’ll go for a swim at the 40-foot in Sandycove and then head to his parent’s house for a home-cooked meal his mother will have prepared.
Later in the evening he’ll sit down with his girlfriend Danielle in front of the TV, and this time around she shouldn’t have to carefully censor the remote-control like she did the night before the 2015 All-Ireland Final against Kerry.
Back then his parents had agreed to appear on the RTE 2 show Up For The Match, but Cian didn’t know this and everyone conspired to keep him in the dark for fear it distracted him the night before the game.
“Yeah, they had them up because we were playing Kerry in the Final and they're both from Kerry,” says O’Sullivan.
“They had them over at the parents (house) and everything in the weeks leading up, there was real espionage going on!
“They wanted to make sure I wouldn't walk in through the door when there was an RTE film crew there.
“You talk about distractions, that would have been one!”
It probably wouldn’t bother him too much were his parents to make another TV guest appearance tomorrow night because he admits he’s more “chilled out” going into big matches now than he was in the past.
At the age of 29, he appreciates that he only has a finite number of these days left in his career, so it’s important to smell the roses along the way.
“I'm playing with Dublin for eight or nine years now and it's something I'm very conscious of trying to do the last number of years,” he says.
“My first memory of the drive from the team hotel to Croke Park obviously through the crowds and stuff and people are banging on the bus and cheering it as it drives by...previously I would have kept the head down and the earphones in and just not get distracted by the people outside.
“But now I've found myself looking out and trying to take it in and enjoy it because I know how special a place it is to be as well.
“I'm really trying to savour those moments because I know with the experience of playing in the last number of All-Irelands and being in those big games I know how to deal with those things and they don't distract me.
“It's definitely something I've been conscious of over the last number of years - trying to enjoy it.
“Because it is such a big deal that's probably not at the forefront of your mind. What's at the forefront of your mind is executing what you have to do for the team.”
He’s might be more relaxed on big-match days now, but otherwise there has been no let-up in terms of doing all he can to be the best footballer he can be.
If anything, he’s had to work even harder because he’s prone to hamstring injuries so prehab is a bigger element of his physical training than ever before.
And he knows too he can’t afford to allow any softening of his mental focus either otherwise he’ll soon find himself sitting on the bench regardless of his perceived importance to the team from everyone outside the camp looking in.
“Yeah, things definitely haven't got easier anyway,” he says. “I've been playing for eight or nine years now and it's not a case that you get to a certain level and it's maintained.
“Every year it's going back and working on your fitness levels, your strength and conditioning, and maybe you get to those points a little bit quicker but they're just the base fundamentals that you need to play.
“It's being able to play when the game is in the melting pot that's the key thing and that's something that you're constantly trying to achieve.
“Yeah, you're constantly trying to improve as well because if you do get to a point when you think, 'Okay, I'm sitting pretty here and ticking all the boxes', well then that's when complacency sets in and we all know what happens when you're complacent.
“So, you're constantly trying to raise the bar and improve, to get better and better.”
No team has come close to Dublin so far this year. Even though they’ve won the last two All-Irelands in a row, it looks like they’re better and hungrier than ever.
We're going into an All-Ireland final with a fantastic opportunity ahead of us to do something special
That determination for constant self-improvement is one of their greatest strengths, and one of the reasons why O’Sullivan counts himself lucky to be part of such a special group.
“It's the 36 men within the squad and it's all the hard work and sacrifice that we've put in over not just over this season but the seasons before,” he says.
“It's a very kind of special place to be because only you guys within that circle can really look each other in the eye and say, 'I did the best I could do for that team'.
“And we're going into an All-Ireland final with a fantastic opportunity ahead of us to do something special.
“We're well aware that we have a strong group of players and that we've had good success over the past number of years, and that it is a really strong opportunity for us to make the most of what we have.
“So, that's the thing that really motivates you to be the best that you can possibly be, and being able to look each other in the eye and know that you did that.”
If they become the first Dublin team since the 1920s to win three All-Irelands in a row they’ll have franked their status as one of the greatest sides in the history of the game.
That prospect isn’t something that weighs on O’Sullivan’s shoulders, though.
He’s too busy living in and enjoying the moment to worry about legacy. That’s something he’ll only take time to savour the day he hangs up his boots.
“You're so focused on three week block to three week block that you don't really get a chance to step back and look at the wider picture,” he says.
“Even comments about this team and the All-Irelands they've won in the last couple of years, it's something that just kind of washes off me because you're just so focused on the task at hand, whether that was Tyrone on Sunday or Mayo now in two weeks’ time.
“I think maybe when I'm finished playing and get a chance to step back and look at this team and the achievements of this team, it'll probably seep in then.
“But thankfully it's not something that I'm distracted with at all. A positive of being through that routine over the last number of years is that you know the pitfalls coming into an All-Ireland Final.
“Little things like tickets can really mess with your head and organising stuff like the banquet afterwards.
“There's loads of admin stuff that you have to just get out of the way as soon as you can. I guess the experience of being in the last number of All-Irelands you learn to deal with them a little bit better.
“I think the key thing in this three-week block is managing the distractions and making sure you're 100 per cent focused going into the game.”