BY NOEL HORGAN
CONOR O’Sullivan readily admits things haven’t gone as well for him as he would have hoped since he made his championship debut against Tipperary in 2009.
Cork lost that game in Thurles, and when they turned the tables against the odds 12 months later at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the Sarsfields clubman spent the entire match looking on from the bench.
He was a regular on the team when Cork lost a Munster final against Limerick and an All-Ireland replay against Clare in 2013, but he played no part in the Rebels Munster final triumph over the Shannonsiders two seasons ago.
Last year O’Sullivan, frustrated by his lack of game-time over the course of the national league, opted not to make himself available for the championship, and it seemed as if his inter-county career had been brought to a premature conclusion.
Approached by new manager Kieran Kingston, O’Sullivan had no hesitation in accepting the invitation to return to the fold this year, but, in view of his past experience, he’s not taking anything for granted in terms of being able to nail down one of the corner back berths on the team.
‘I’m delighted to be back, because we have a brilliant management now, and everything is top class,’ O’Sullivan said.
‘I get on well with all the players, so I’m really enjoying it, and, having gone through the hardship of training during the winter months, I’m hoping it will pay dividends.
‘At the same time, competition for places is always savage, because there’s one or two new players brought into the panel every year, and anyone who gets the call-up obviously has quality.
‘When I came on to it in 2009, and I thought I’d serve my time for maybe two or three years, and that I’d start in every game after that.
‘As I got older, I realised that wasn’t going to be the case.
‘I’m 28 now, and I’ve been involved with Cork a long time without actually playing a lot or winning a lot, so I’m obviously hoping my luck is going to change sooner or later.’
O’Sullivan isn’t exactly brimming with optimism as regards what the immediate future has in store for Cork, however, stating that he fully understands why they are ranked someway down the pecking-order at the moment.
‘I’d say we’re about the fourth or fifth best team in Munster as far as most people are concerned, because we have gone back a bit over the past couple of years,’ he admitted.
‘It’s only logical that people have reached that conclusion, and I fully appreciate it, to be honest.
‘It’s hard to forget the last two championships when we went out with a whimper against Tipperary and Galway.
‘We’re a good bit away from the standard that Tipp have set in Munster, and I suppose Waterford and Clare have really raised the bar as well.
‘Based on last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final display against Galway, you’d have to say the future looks bleak, but it also looked bleak in 2013, and when we we started winning a few games to get to an All-Ireland final, it was all forgotten.
‘So, we’re hoping we can put a few good performances together again this year, and if we do, we might be able to make it a bit of a battle against some of the top teams.’
Asked how he would rate Cork’s chances against Tipp on Sunday, O’Sullivan said he’d like to think it will all come down to form on the day.
‘Tipp are entitled to be strong favourites, there is no question about that, but if everything goes right for us, and it doesn’t for them, maybe we’ll stand some sort of chance,’ O’Sullivan said.
‘On the other hand, if everything clicks for both teams, you’d probably say that Tipp are the better hurlers and will win.’