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Thursday 23 November 2017

O'Sullivan: 'I know just how special a place this is to be'

Dublin’s Cian O’Sullivan chases down Tyrone’s Peter Harte in their All-Ireland SFC semi-final encounter. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Dublin’s Cian O’Sullivan chases down Tyrone’s Peter Harte in their All-Ireland SFC semi-final encounter. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Cian O'Sullivan has these All-Ireland SFC final build-ups cracked at this stage.

Tomorrow, he'll drive down to the 40-foot in Sandycove and plunge himself into the Irish Sea for a quick dip.

Then he'll head back his family house for a home cooked meal and settle in to watch a film with his girlfriend, Danielle.

"I remember a few years ago my parents were on Up For The Match and I didn't know that they were going to be on it because I would have gone mad," he says now, of the night before the 2015 final.

Both of O'Sullivan's parent are from Kerry and that week, unbeknownst to Cian, the RTÉ cameras were in the O'Sullivan home, taking footage of where Dublin's centre-back grew up.

"Danielle had control of the remote control and she was very keen to make sure we didn't go past RTé 2 when we were flicking through the channels for some reason," he laughs.

"There was real espionage going on…"

On Sunday morning, O'Sullivan will settle into what he calls his "battle rhythm," only he will consciously take more of the prelude to the game in than he did in, say, 2011 or 2013.

"Playing with Dublin for eight or nine years now, it's something I'm very conscious of trying to do the last number of years," he explains.

"My first memory of the drive from the team hotel to Croke Park obviously through the crowds and stuff.

Special

"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," O'Sullivan admits.

"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."

Which means that talk of Dublin's place in the pantheon of great football teams passes over O'Sullivan's head.

"It's something that just kind of washes off me because you're just so focused on the task at hand," he shrugs.

"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.

"I guess the experience of being in the last number of All-Irelands you learn to deal with them a little bit better."

O'Sullivan knows he is not just in a privileged position on the Dublin team bus but as guardian of their defence.

Magic

No-one looks as cool in that set-up as O'Sullivan when he sweeps in front of his own full-back line and for that reason, this time last year, the need to 'occupy' him was put forward as the magic formula to opening Dublin up.

Either way, O'Sullivan is happy to adjust.

He understands that to occupy him, a team will leave their back six sweeper-less against the Dublin attack.

"If a team's going to go six players up on us, we're not going to have an extra body there to mind the house so a lot of it depends on how the opposition sets up," he points out.

"But I personally wouldn't have thought that teams have really targeted it as a ploy.

"You kind of have a good standing point to see the opposition's transitions develop," he explains, "and you're trying to assess, okay, what's the threat here?

"Are they gonna run the ball down the middle? In which case I maybe need to press out on a man and maybe get a tackle on him.

"Or," O'Sullivan goes on, detailing the minutiae of his role, "are they going to dump a big high ball into a target man and the backline?

"In which case I might need to get a little bit closer to the guys in the full-back line, or a crossfield ball or whatever," he explains.

"So you're looking at the play evolve further out the pitch and trying to predict, 'Okay where's this ball going to end up?'.

"But I'm comfortable enough doing that job. I like doing that job."

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