BY KIERAN McCARTHY
SHE made a dream championship debut in August, and now she’s hoping for the perfect end to the season.
Aine O’Sullivan (21) from Allihies was a surprise inclusion in the Cork team that thumped Meath 7-22 to 0-3 in an All-Ireland ladies’ football qualifier in Thurles.
This was the match that got All-Ireland champions Cork back on track after the Munster final defeat to Kerry in Mallow, and this was also the match where Aine O’Sullivan announced herself to the GAA world, by scoring 3-5 and winning the player of the match award.
‘It turned out better than I could ever have dreamt. It was the ideal start for me,’ the Beara ace said.
O’Sullivan, a final year Management and Marketing student in UCC, found out the Friday before that bank holiday Monday game that she would get her big chance, as manager Eamonn Ryan reshuffled his pack. She took her chance, and kept her place in the quarter-final win against Galway and the semi-final revenge victory against Kerry (4-14 to 0-13), a game where the full forward scored 1-1.
‘To be honest, I wasn’t too happy with the game against Galway because I missed a few chances, but that happens too,’ O’Sullivan said.
‘It’s gone well enough for me so far. The players around me are brilliant and the ball coming in is top class. It makes it a lot easier when you’re inside at full forward if the ball is coming straight into you. Hopefully I can keep my place for Sunday and do the business.’
This is just O’Sullivan’s second season with this all-conquering Cork ladies’ football juggernaut that is closing in on a tenth All-Ireland in only 11 seasons. Dublin, like last year’s final, stand in Cork’s way again this Sunday in Croke Park.
O’Sullivan was on the bench last year as Cork came from ten points behind in the second half to secure a famous 2-13 to 2-12 win, and she expects another tight game this Sunday.
‘Dublin are a very good team and we need to be at our best if we want to win. It will be close. They will be looking for revenge from last year,’ she said.
‘The Galway and Kerry games will definitely stand to us. In the semi-final against Kerry we wanted to show that the Munster final in Mallow was just a bad day. We did that and we played very well. The Galway game was tight as well, so we’re coming off the back of two good games.’
For O’Sullivan, who hails from a sports-mad family in Allihies, last year’s experience of being involved in the panel was the ideal introduction to life at senior inter-county level.
She had played U14 for Cork but, considering it’s a four-hour round-trip from Allihies to the city, it wasn’t feasible, up until she started college in UCC.
Her UCC manager Shane Ronayne is a selector with Cork. The door opened, and O’Sullivan didn’t need to be asked twice.
‘Coming in last year to train and play with those players was a great experience, and that’s stood to me for this year,’ she said.
‘They are very welcoming, very encouraging and they all made me feel at home. I got to know them last year and this year I have pushed on, and hopefully we can finish the job on Sunday.’
Her twin brother Sean Terry is well known in Beara GAA, as are her older brother Brian and younger sister Niamh, as these Garnish footballers put their family on the local sporting map.
‘We were always very competitive, playing football and soccer around the village, and there was even an odd hurley used every now and again,’ she said.
Her parents, John Terry and Mary, run a shop and guesthouse in Allihies.
This weekend, the family will travel to the capital to cheer on Aine, who is one of three West Cork ladies on the Cork senior football panel, along with Martina O’Brien from Ballinascarthy and Aine Hayes from Rosscarbery.
And now O’Sullivan is living the dream with Cork’s living legends, Briege Corkery, Valerie Mulcahy, Rena Buckley, Brid Stack, Geraldine O’Flynn and Deirdre O’Reilly, all who are chasing their tenth All-Ireland medal.
‘When I was growing up that’s what I wanted to do – to play football with Cork. I’ve been watching those players for the last ten years and when I got the call-up it was surreal to be training with them,’ O’Sullivan recalled.
‘They have been so encouraging, and the experience they have is unbelievable and you can always learn from them. It’s a great honour to be able to share a pitch with them. The appetite and hunger is there. We want to win every game. It comes down to hard work. We want to be winning All-Irelands.’
It’s been a fantastic breakthrough season for O’Sullivan to date, and it can get even better on Sunday, as she hopes to dish out more capital pain to Dublin in GAA HQ.