Glenbeigh/Glencar and former Kerry footballer Darran O’Sullivan pictured at the launch of AIB’s The Toughest Season photobook, a pictorial account of how hurling, football and camogie communities came together to support one another throughout one of the toughest years in history.
Glenbeigh/Glencar and former Kerry footballer Darran O’Sullivan pictured at the launch of AIB’s The Toughest Season photobook, a pictorial account of how hurling, football and camogie communities came together to support one another throughout one of the toughest years in history.

Darran O'Sullivan: 'I expect Kerry to be at the top table next year'


By Cian O'Connell

A Munster SFC defeat always lingers in Kerry so Darran O'Sullivan is fully aware of the implications a loss to Cork brings.

Kerry's panel is sprinkled with emerging talent, but when hard questions were being posed by Cork, O'Sullivan acknowledges a lack of experience and guile counted.

"100%," O'Sullivan replies. "Last year at the All-Ireland I was sitting there. Four of us went together, myself, [Kieran] Donaghy, Donnnchadh [Walsh] and Anthony Maher.

"Four lads who were around for 10 plus years, had won, had lost, but had been through the wringer enough to know what to do in that situation and I think we were lacking it that day.

"If we'd had one older head to come on that day I genuinely think Kerry would have won the All-Ireland. The same against Cork, if you had one or two ore experienced players coming on, maybe earlier as well. Changes that were made, they were negative for me."

O'Sullivan is adamant about the value of established performers in such demanding circumstances.

"You need experience around the place. And we do have a lot of experience on that team at the moment, but the experience we have, they're not serial winners. I'm not saying that as an insult.

"Kerry have one All-Ireland in what is going to be 11 years, so a lot of our experienced players have only one medal and that's not enough when you really need to dig it out.

Killian Spillane following Kerry's Munster SFC defeat against Cork at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Killian Spillane following Kerry's Munster SFC defeat against Cork at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

"You need someone who's been there, won it all and lost it all. We may be lacking, but there's nothing you can do about it now. We have a bit of experience there in David [Moran] in Tommy [Walsh], but that's about it really.

O'Sullivan believes that Kerry need to come out with different ways to thrive under duress.

"The rest of the players are very good players, have been great servants, have a lot of experience, but weren't there for the glory days of the early noughties when we were successfully winning," O'Sullivan continues.

"And when we weren't winning we were coming straight back the following year and winning. We were able to channel that hurt and disappointment and fuel us for the following year.

"Maybe that's something we are lacking, but that's gone now, these players are gone and they're not coming back. So they have to find another way."

Dealing with high expectations is part and parcel of being a Kerry footballer.

"I'll say it straight out, I expect Kerry to be at the top table next year," O'Sullivan admits. "They'll be there or thereabouts. I still think they're one of the top two or three in the country.

"I genuinely believe they got caught on the hop - just a bad day at the office. I'll be open in saying that if Kerry played Cork 100 times, that game the last day is the only time they'd lose. I genuinely believe that.

Darran O'Sullivan and Kieran Donaghy before the 2018 All Ireland SFC Quarter-Final game between Kerry and Kildare.
Darran O'Sullivan and Kieran Donaghy before the 2018 All Ireland SFC Quarter-Final game between Kerry and Kildare.

"If they want to play for Kerry that's the expectation. I don't really see that as a burden. I'd find it more of an insult if that wasn't expected. If you want to play for Kerry or Dublin, one of the top teams, you have to hold yourself to high standards and expect that we're going to be challenging for everything. And when you are challenging you have to say challenging ain't enough, we want to be winning."

Kerry are keen to return to the summit of the Gaelic Football world and the setbacks frequently provide motivation according to O'Sullivan.

"We want to be at the top table and looking down on everyone else," O'Sullivan adds.

"The long and short of it is we haven't been doing that for a while. We've been there or thereabouts, we've been also-rans. It isn't good enough. At the end of your career you don't want to say we were very close on four, five or six occasions and just didn't get over the line. Because you're carrying that around for a long time.

"I was lucky the team I was part of, we got over the line four times while I was there and we were also-rans more [often]. I'd hardly remember any of the finals we won, but I definitely remember the quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals where I felt we should have won we just for whatever reason didn't perform or we were just lacking something."

Football talk remains high on the agenda in the Kingdom with O'Sullivan stressing that 2020 had the potential to be a particularly good campaign for the green and gold outfit.

"There is never a dull moment down here," O'Sullivan laughs. "Since the defeat to Cork it has been doom and gloom really which you'd expect.

"It is just one of those things, I think they got caught on the day. I genuinely believe it was a massive opportunity missed this year."

Kerry's Darran O'Sullivan in action during the 2017 Allianz Football League Final against Dublin.
Kerry's Darran O'Sullivan in action during the 2017 Allianz Football League Final against Dublin.

The Allianz Football League evidence in October had been so favourable for Kerry. "Personally I watched them in the two League games before the Cork game and I was openly saying that I didn't think anyone was as Championship ready as they were," O'Sullivan remarks.

"They looked incredibly fit, strong, and powerful, but I was never as wrong in my life. "They were the opposite two weeks later, it was one of those things, great players will have off days, teams will have off days.

"It was just a really bad off day. Sure ye know yourselves, ye are around it as long as I am, and longer, probably. When you lose a game like that, when you should be winning, and winning comfortably the knives come out. We are as good as anyone, down in Kerry, at pulling out the knives fairly quickly."

Inevitably criticism has followed with O'Sullivan recalling the emotions that followed the game Leeside.

"It has been a rough couple of weeks, especially for the boys," O'Sullivan says. "I think initially as a fan you'd be cross watching it, you'd be angry after it because of silly mistakes, it was just a bad day.

"But after that subsided I just kinda felt sorry for them really. Any other year you'd have a backdoor, you'd have a chance to regroup, to get back together or if you were out you'd get a chance to socialise or go back to the club.

"They didn't have that, and I just feel that in the last couple of weeks they've probably been replaying this game over, over, and over in the head."

How will Kerry respond in 2021?