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‘I knew the time was right to hang up the inter-county boots’ 

March 30th, 2024 8:15 AM

By Southern Star Team

‘I knew the time was right to hang up the inter-county boots’  Image
Eight-time All-Ireland winner Ciara O'Sullivan.

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A LITTLE over three weeks ago — on March 8th, to be exact — news came through that one of the great inter-county careers had been brought to a close. 

After initially indicating at the start of the year that she was going to be taking a break for the Lidl National Football League — at which point she was 99 percent sure she had played her last game for the side — Cork’s Ciara O’Sullivan officially announced her retirement from the elite level of ladies football. 

An eight-time winner of the TG4 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, including two as team captain in 2015 and 2016, O’Sullivan also picked up five TG4 All Stars during a glittering 16-year spell with her native county. 

The most recent of those individual awards came at the end of the 2023 season, which she describes as one of her most enjoyable in the colours of the Rebels — despite their semi-final exit to Dublin in the All-Ireland SFC. Yet having contemplated the idea of stepping away from inter-county duty before ultimately opting to line out last year, O’Sullivan believes the time is now right to draw the curtain on her time with Cork. 

‘Going back to last year I would have thought about it maybe for the first time. More so because of age rather than anything else. Then ironically last year was probably one of the most enjoyable years with Cork, which made the decision that bit harder when it came to it then,’ O’Sullivan explained. 

‘It was nice to finish the year then with the All Star, but I’m very mindful that they’re very subjective and it’s a panel picking them. Plenty of people thought maybe I didn’t deserve it, but it was a nice way to end it and go out on a high. When it came to the start of this year, I knew that the time was right for me to hang up the inter-county boots.’ 

In that penultimate round championship loss to Dublin last July, O’Sullivan was joined on the Cork team by her sisters Meabh and Doireann. Fast forward a little under eight months to last Sunday’s reversal to Meath in NFL Division 1 – a result that saw Cork suffering relegation from the league's top-tier – and none of the O’Sullivans were part of the Leeside set-up. 

Whereas Meabh opted to go travelling this year, Doireann – having originally revealed her intention to sit out the 2024 inter-county season – announced her own inter-county retirement on the same day as Ciara and a few days before experienced defender Roisin Phelan did likewise. 

Captain Ciara O'Sullivan lift the cup following Cork's victory in the 2016 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship final.


A five-time Celtic Cross winner who was also named on the TG4 All Star team in 2018, Doireann had been plagued with injuries in recent years. Speaking as someone who spent her fair share of time on the treatment table in the past – she tore her cruciate ligament in both 2010 and 2012 – Ciara can relate to what her younger sibling had gone through in order to remain part of the Cork cause. 

‘I would have a lot of sympathy for Doireann because while my decision was kind of my own, I feel like Doireann’s was more so her body deciding for her. Which is always tough, you want to be able to go out on your own terms as much as possible and I would have sympathy for her in that regard,’ she said. 

‘At the same time, if you had said to Doireann at the start that she’d have won five All-Irelands and an All Star, I think she’d have taken that. I think just with the injuries to her knee and back over the last few years, it was time because obviously playing inter-county, it’s just a huge demand on your body and it does take its toll.’ 

Whether it’s at club level with Mourneabbey or as a member of an all-conquering Cork side in the inter-county grade, playing football has always been a family affair for O’Sullivan. After playing with eldest sister Roisin and cousin Sile O’Callaghan in her early days on both panels, she counted the aforementioned Doireann as her simultaneous club and county team-mate from 2012 onwards. 

Although their miraculous comeback victory against Dublin in the 2014 Brendan Martin Cup decider is an obvious highlight – Cork came from 10 points behind to beat the Jackies by the bare minimum – winning an All-Ireland SFC title in tandem with Doireann two years earlier at the expense of provincial rivals Kerry is another that sticks out in Ciara’s memory. 

‘Obviously 2014 for the comeback is a big highlight. There’s a few pictures after that match where you’d find it hard to tell who won because it’s just complete shock on both team’s faces. That one definitely stands out and the 2012 final, that would have been Doireann’s first year starting. Doireann was centre-forward and I was wing-forward. That was a nice one as well.’ 

Given she has already been in attendance at five of their games thus far in 2024, O’Sullivan intends to continue actively supporting a Cork side that are currently captained by another of her cousins, Maire O’Callaghan, the younger sister of Sile. In addition to aiding the cause of reigning Cork senior club champions Mourneabbey (for whom she togged out against Carrigaline in a Division 2 league opener last Sunday), she will also be kept busy in her role as an ambassador for the LGFA’s BUA programme. 

Aimed at females aged 16-19, BUA is a self-development initiative aimed at developing the leadership skills of young people within the Ladies Gaelic Association, which, in turn, will benefit their local communities. 

‘It was only actually at the start of this year that I was asked to get involved and I’ve been very fortunate enough to get an awful lot out of ladies football. You’d be honoured to be asked and anything you could do to give back, I’d definitely be up for it,’ O’Sullivan said of the BUA programme. 

‘Two of the big points on it are resilience and dealing with change. At the time of somebody’s life, a girl 16-19, you’re in your Leaving Cert and then you’re moving into college. There’s a lot of change. I think it gives people life skills that obviously are great for football, but in a much wider context outside of football and outside of sport, would stand to you a lot in life.’


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