Updated Dec 16th 2020, 5:12 PM
CIAN O’SULLIVAN HAS faced an almost annual battle to prove his fitness around All-Ireland final time and this year is no different.
Hamstring twinges have struck the 32-year-old defender at the business end of recent seasons, though he still remains one of a handful of Dublin players who’ve featured in all seven finals they’ve won since 2011.
He didn’t make an appearance in last year’s drawn final with Kerry, but arrived off the bench in the 68th minute of the replay to maintain his impressive record.
A year earlier his hamstring went just 26 minutes into the 2018 decider against Tyrone.
On both occasions, O’Sullivan had endured an intense rehab programme to make himself available for the big day.
Likewise in 2015, a bad hamstring tear in the semi-final against Mayo made him a serious doubt for the final.
He didn’t take part in a full training session in the two week run-in to the decider, but completed a “chaotic” rehab that ensured his hamstring lasted for an hour of the narrow win over Kerry.
O’Sullivan later described his injury recovery in 2015 as his “the most satisfying thing in my football career.”
Reflecting now, he says: “In ’18, the semi and final, got two hamstring issues and then before last year’s final as well, in the lead up to that.
“Timing wise it’s not been great. It’s part of playing inter-county football – injuries. It’s something that I’ve had to battle with probably my whole career, and more so in recent years probably with the mileage on the clock than in previous years.
“So in a strange way I’m used to it, which is possibly a good thing, I know what I need to do.
“I know what’s worked for me in the past, what’s not worked for me but I’m feeling really good now.”
“A couple of niggly injuries” forced him to miss out on the 26 for Dublin’s recent semi-final defeat of Cavan.
In total since the restart he’s logged just 20 minutes of action – in the league against Meath – but he’s optimistic as the 19 December showdown against Mayo approaches.
“The body is feeling good now. I trained fully this week and yeah, I’m good to go,” he confirms.
One of Dublin’s most important players during the Jim Gavin era, O’Sullivan’s sweeping role from centre-back was key to their change in gameplan following the shock 2014 All-Ireland semi-final loss to Jim McGuinness’s Donegal.
That game and the 2012 semi-final exit to Mayo are the only two championship games he has lost since they ended the famine in 2011.
The Kilmacud Crokes man made his debut in 2009 and now stands on the verge of winning his eighth Celtic Cross which would put him in esteemed company.
As a man with both parents hailing from Kerry, he doesn’t need reminding that another All-Ireland medal would leave him level with a quintet of Kingdom legends.
But that’s not a driving factor, says O’Sullivan.
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“I’m not just saying it because it’s what you should say to media but I honestly don’t [think about it]. Even All-Irelands and other accolades that I’ve won in the past, they don’t really register because it’s not what the team is trying to do.
Dublin’s Cian O’Sullivan in action against Meath in October.
Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
“We’re so involved in the team right now that your mind doesn’t even go there. I think probably when you finish playing and in 10 or 20 years’ time and you’re looking back over it and watching back old DVDs, and have your medals stored away somewhere, it’ll probably hit home at that stage. Right now, no, that’s the honest answer.
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“It’s not something that really motivates me or drives me. That bubble that we have within the team and trying to be the absolute best team that we can be, to sustain that and be consistent with that and not be a flash in the pan and a one-hit wonder, that’s what really drives me and motivates me to be part of that.
“That creates a massive competitive drive within that arena. To get involved and to be on the 26, or to play some part, it’s a massive motivator.”
It’s been a busy year at home for O’Sullivan following the arrival of daughter Bonnie in April, making him just one of two fathers on the Dublin panel alongside clubmate Rory O’Carroll.
“Me and Rory would talk about how teething and talking and all that sort of stuff is going on. But we’re in a minority there,” he smiles.
“The blessing of Covid is that I’ve been working at home a lot more than I normally would have been. So I have had that time at home to be a dad and to be there.
“I would have seen how difficult it is had it been a normal year, being gone to work early in the morning, like I’d generally be gone out the door at 7.30am so I wouldn’t see her in the morning.
“Then if you’re training that evening you’re not getting home until 9pm or 9.30pm, so the whole day is gone.
“If you’re doing that three or four times a week it’s pretty limited time that you’re getting with your new child. I could see that being quite difficult in any other circumstances. A plus side of Covid for me has been that that hasn’t been the case.”
Despite his recent injury struggles and extra responsibilities at home, he’s not contemplating retirement right now.
“It’s not something that I’m thinking about right now. Right now there’s an All-Ireland final on Saturday and that’s all I’m focused on. As long as my body can deliver I’ll keep going because it’s such a privileged place to be.
“Ever since I was a young kid and started to play football, to play for Dublin was a massive dream and I’ve been so fortunate in the last 12 seasons that I’ve been involved with the team to have worn the jersey in that time.
“So if I can continue do that 100% I will. We’ll just have to take stock after the season and see how the body is then and address those issues then.”