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Saturday 3 December 2016

Fans were banging on the bus and roaring

Dublin's Cian O'Sullivan with the Sam Maguire cup.
Dublin's Cian O'Sullivan with the Sam Maguire cup.

Cian O'Sullivan will never allow himself to get carried away with Dublin's success, their eye-popping sequence of four All-Irelands in six seasons, and with good reason.

Here's why... as he left Croke Park after his SFC debut, the Dublin bus was rocked and the players within roundly booed.

"Some of the other guys in the team haven't been around in the bad days. My first game in 2009, we were beaten by Kerry in the quarters by 17 points," he recalls.

"The infamous 'startled earwigs' - that was my debut. That was only seven years ago. Two years later and we were lifting Sam. A lot can change in a very short space of time. It's something I'm very conscious of and the lads are very conscious of."

Essentially, O'Sullivan is saying that - for all their trophies and plaudits and unbeaten run - Jim Gavin's squad haven't lost their humility. Complacency is anathema. They can't blithely assume the bad times will never come again.

It sure started badly for O'Sullivan: by the time this rookie sub entered the waking nightmare of that 2009 quarter-final, there were 28 minutes elapsed and Kerry's lead was already in double-digits.

It was a "humiliating" experience, he admits, and a "harsh reality check that, leaving the stadium, we were booed ... there were people coming up and rocking the bus and banging on the bus and roaring and shouting in at the players."

O'Sullivan is quick to clarify that we're not talking about some 'Welcome to Hell' scenario. "It wasn't toppling over or anything," he says. "When you're driving out after games there's still loads of people on the streets and, yeah, there were a few disgruntled fans."

Besides, he adds, fans are "passionate when they win, which is great, and equally when you lose ... when you turn up and have a pathetic performance like that, like we did, they're going to be annoyed."

The Kilmacud defender goes on: "That was the start of my Dublin career. It's a reference point in terms of how recent that was and 'don't get carried away with the success'. It's a kind of humbling thought that if I was asked then, in seven years' time you'd have four All-Irelands with Dublin, I would have looked at you a bit strange.

"We're very lucky to be playing at this particular time and playing at a time when players like Paul Flynn, Bernard Brogan, Stephen Cluxton, Diarmuid Connolly, Michael Darragh Macauley are playing for Dublin.

"There have been fantastic players who played for Dublin over the last 10 or 20 years and some of them don't have any All-Irelands, Ciarán Whelan unfortunately for him being the most infamous example."

O'Sullivan, now 28, remembers how Dublin believed they were "flying" going into that Kerry ambush.

"By all reports, we were (flying) - so I guess it was good learning in that you don't listen to the externals. You kind of have to look in the mirror and that's your reality there," he suggests.

So Dublin "hit the reset button" and went on to have a strong year in 2010. With one notable exception.

"A bit complacent," he says of that five-goal Meath mauling.

"Looking back over the tape, we could see that guys just weren't working hard enough and the work ethic was completely down. You can't expect to just have it one day and not the next - it has to be your bedrock.

"Unfortunately, you learn a lot more from your defeats than you do your wins. So that was those two games, and I suppose in 2014 (against Donegal). Tough and all as they were to take, you'd like to think that the team grew and was the better for them."

Dublin have grown to such an extent that they haven't lost once, in league or championship, since early March last year. Not that O'Sullivan was paying much attention.

"Firstly, I'm not conscious that we were 29 games unbeaten. I was chatting to a few of the lads earlier and we were remarking that there was a lot of talk post-game of two-in-a-row ... and I completely forgot we were going for two-in-a-row.

Three-in-a-row

"Just the same way next year - we'll never talk about three-in-a-row, so you kind of forget about these things. I know it's a cliché that you go out to give your best performance and take it one game at a time, but it's a cliché for a reason."

He concludes: "We've been through a lot of tight battles in recent years and that definitely stands to you. There's no substitute for experience.

"You can talk about it, you can sit up the front of a team meeting with flip charts and say, 'With ten minutes to go this is the scenario, we do X' ... until you actually experience that, the heat of the fire, there's no substitute for that experience in how to deal with that situation."

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