When Doireann O’Sullivan began her career in Cork women’s football, the team were on their own as the main protagonists of the game, fighting for the Brendan Martin Cup almost every year.
In recent years, however, they have had to give up this position to Dublin and, of course, Meath, the reigning All-Ireland champion.
But their determination to get back to where they were and their belief in themselves remain adamant.
Ahead of this weekend’s All Ireland Quarterfinals match against Mayo, O’Sullivan, who was voted PwC’s Player of the Month in June, has reaffirmed that belief.
“I don’t think I would be part of the setup if I didn’t think we had the potential to win. I think all girls feel the same way. We set out to win an All-Ireland at the start of every year and we believe wholeheartedly that we have the potential to do so. We’ve got a serious line-up behind us,” she said.
“It’s strange like that. When I first started playing football for Cork we would have been favorites to win the All-Ireland. Now we’re probably three or four, a little further down. So it’s strange, but it’s a big challenge and also a big motivator.
“Seeing what Meath accomplished last year is enough inspiration and motivation to return to Croke Park and right the mistakes of last year. This loss is one of the worst losses I’ve had on a football field,” she admitted.
O’Sullivan came on as a substitute that day and was struggling with another knee injury, but Cork’s lead seemed almost unassailable down the stretch.
The misery of the day for her was compounded by the fact that she had to replace Sister Ciara, who was later hospitalized with a broken shoulder.
“I came for her, but I cried. She came out and then they called me to come — so I was everywhere when I came in,” she said.
“Then we literally ran to Croke Park crying. I think we were seven points clear with six or seven minutes left. The doctor at the hospital told Ciara that we won.
“She had gone through a whirlwind of emotions. So it’s definitely probably the worst defeat on a soccer field for me. That or a couple of All-Irelands clubs (with Mourneabbey).”
Sore knees – she’s had three keyhole surgeries between the two – have forced a change in training schedules, which she’s had to adapt to in consultation with the team’s strength and conditioning coach and physio, along with manager Shane Roynane.
“It took me a little longer to decide if I’m going to play inter-county football this year, not because I don’t like playing football, but because I understand the demands that playing inter-county football Football puts on my body and my body seems to do it. I really only do two pitch sessions max a week and the girls did three, so that didn’t sit well with me at first because I just feel like everyone is doing it all the time should be in place.
“But I think I’ve matured a bit and gotten a little bit smarter because the other way didn’t work when I was on the pitch three nights a week.”
She’s unsure if it’s the legacy of attrition given that problems began when she was just 23 years old, but her joy at being able to play again is evident.
“I don’t think there’s anything more frustrating. I’m aware I’m not jinxing, I’m touching wood here, but on the sidelines it’s extremely frustrating. I was lucky to come back a bit last year but we me put in too much time and effort to be in the crowd with everyone else. It’s not fun, I don’t think anyone likes being back that much.”
O’Sullivan admits Cork need to become a more physical team if they are to keep up with Dublin and Meath.
“Through the video analysis, we realized that in terms of physicality, there was a gap between us and Dublin and us and Meath,” she acknowledged.
“We have some very good footballers. Maybe we’re a little shy or a little too nice. Shane keeps repeating that nice teams don’t always win. I think the video analysis helped us a lot in that way. They just put it in places Put together a few clips where we’re not really dying on the ball or fighting for the ball or winning those breaks, the 50-50 balls.
“And then they put in some videos of Libby Coppinger winning a ridiculous ball and fighting for everything and showing how it can be done and what we need to do to take on Dublin and Meath and Mayo, all these teams in terms of physicality. I think it’s a box that we’ve left unchecked over the last few years.”
O’Sullivan has watched fellow Erika O’Shea join an exodus to Australia to play AFLW in the second half of the year, but as the numbers rise she said she wasn’t too concerned about the trend, citing the standards for substitutes for established players .
“Women’s football has evolved into a place where when someone’s gone, someone else shows up,” she said.
“Take Mayo for example at the weekend, they’ve lost a great many players to AFLW but they’ve gotten younger girls into it and they’re just excited about the opportunity to play intercounty football.
“You’re replacing the girls who played AFLW with girls who are just as good. I think it’s an excellent opportunity to play top-level sport abroad, but I don’t see it affecting the level of women’s football that much.”
https://www.independent.ie/sport/gaelic-games/ladies-football/doireann-osullivan-and-cork-relishing-huge-challenge-to-reclaim-all-ireland-crown-41823507.html Doireann O’Sullivan and Cork enjoy ‘enormous challenge’ to reclaim the All-Ireland crown