O’Sullivan, Kevin Jerh

17 September 1993
Kevin Jerh O’Sullivan

Picked on the Cork football team of the century and an All-Star on the double

Kevin Jerh O’Sullivan from the Beara peninsula in West Cork was unquestionably one of his county’s greatest ever footballers, playing at right half back when the Rebels won the All-Ireland Senior title in 1973 and his place in Cork footballing history was recognised in 1984 when named on the Cork team of the century.

On Sunday the Cork footballers will be back in the Senior final and this team contains another O’Sullivan from Beara, Ciaran, appearing in his first final. Up until this year the young man was a forward but has been appearing in Kevin Jerh’s old position of right half back in the 1993 Championship, and looking as if he played there all his life. "I think he’ll do very well and it just shows what coaching can do", says Kevin Jerh O’Sullivan. "I’d like to wish him well".

Adrigole in West Cork is the exact area that Kevin Jerh hails from and, in his time, it wasn’t a region much frequented by the intercounty selectors. In 1965 he started playing for the local Junior team when aged only 16 and the following year was hoping to make the Cork Minor team but was strangely overlooked. "They picked a lot of college fellows and didn’t come out here to the wilds where I was". While disappointed by his omission from this team, it didn’t take long for the Adrigole man’s talents to be rewarded. In 1967 he was a member of the Beara Senior team which beat UCC in the county Championship final and went on to win the Munster Club Championship the following year, in the days when division sides were allowed to play in the provincial club Championship. Kevin Jerh was such a key member of this team that his claims for a place on the county side couldn’t be ignored any longer. So in 1968 Kevin Jerh pulled on the red and white jersey for the first time for a League game against Galway. "It was a great thrill for me to make my debut". From late 1968, O’Sullivan was a regular on the Cork team and seemed destined to be part of the set-up for a long time but then, in April of 1969, disaster struck

A knee injury incurred during training in Glengarriff required 18 stitches and a spell on hospital. While this may not seem earth shattering in itself, things got worse as the Adrigole man contracted tetanus and had to remain in hospital for 14 weeks. "I was at death’s door for a while and I thought it was all over. I thought I’d never kick a ball again". However, he proved to be a more resilient patient than that as he defied the odds and the predictions of doctors and everybody else to come back training in October of the same year, taking time out himself to get fit again on his own. He duly regained his place on the Cork team in 1970 and in ’71 won his first Munster Championship medal, playing no small part in the defeat of Kerry as he kicked two ’50’s’ over the bar. "It was an outstanding Munster final. We were four points down at half time but we came back and destroyed them in the second half". The Rebels ended up running away with it, winning by 25 points to 14.

In the All-Ireland semi final Cork were beaten by eventual champions Offaly. 1971 was the first year of the All-Stars scheme and many observers tipped Kevin Jerh for the right half back position and he himself was hopeful but Offaly’s Eugene Mulligan made it instead. The following season the Rebel defender made up for it, becoming the only Corkman to make the team as they had lost the Munster final to Kerry by six points. He was picked in the left half back position. "That was one of the highlight of my career up to that point. To be picked as the only Corkman that year was a great honour".
While 1972 might not have been a remarkable successful year for the Corkman, 1973 certainly was as they took the All-Ireland Senior football title back to the county for the first time in 28 years. "That was our great year. We had an outstanding team with Donie Donovan as coach and Bill Morgan as captain. When we won the All-Ireland it was a great honour". In that Summer’s Munster final Cork beat old rivals Kerry by a convincing margin of nine points and then hammered Tyrone in the semi final, 5-10 to 2-4. The final was against Galway and while it was probably the most significant match of his career, Kevin Jerh has difficulty remembering some of it. "I played the last 20 minutes of the final with concussion so I don’t remember much of it. By the end of it I was seeing double". He couldn’t come off as Cork had already used their three substitutes, but they still went on to win by seven points. "Only for I was put up on somebody’s shoulders after the match I wouldn’t have made it to the tunnel but the celebrations were fantastic". The wing back on that team claims that the reception they got on their return home was the biggest ever seen in Cork, bigger than any which greeted victorious hurling teams.

Predictably enough, Kevin Jerh was given his second All-Star in a row that year, this time joining six other Corkmen on the team - Billy Morgan, Frank Cogan, Brian Murphy, Denis Long, Jimmy Barry Murphy and Ray Cummins. The following year their ambition was to make it two All-Irelands in a row and while they again took the Munster title, they went down to Dublin by six points at the penultimate stage. "We were firm favourites to win the All-Ireland but were caught on the day of the semi final. We came up against the beginnings of the great Dublin team of the ’70’s". Cork had a lot of dual players, people like Ray Cummins and Jimmy Barry Murphy, and it was difficult to keep the panel together. 1975 was O’Sullivan’s last year playing at intercounty level. They were beaten by 10 points in the Munster final by "the greatest Kerry team of all time", as he says himself. Following that match, many of the Corkmen were dropped from the panel, including Kevin Jerh himself. After many years of service to their county, they felt it was bad treatment to get. "Before that I never had a bad game but when we lost the Munster final there was a lot of us dropped. I thought we were treated badly. I was 28 years of age and came back to play better football with the club afterwards. When I look back on it now I feel a bit hurt". That year, 1975, yielded his second Railway Cup medal, to add to the one he earned in 1972 with Munster.

The pocket dynamo stayed playing club football right up until he was 40, retiring in 1988. "I gave it up before they had to wheel me out of it!" He had plenty of success at club level with both the local Adrigole side and also his divisional side, Beara winning eight Beara Junior Championships and in 1979 was captain of the Adrigole team which took the Intermediate County Championship. He also had the added responsibility of training that team. The O’Sullivan family were always strongly represented on the local teams with six of Kevin Jerh’s brothers also playing for Adrigole and five of them lining out for Beara. Following their Intermediate victory in ’79, Adrigole were Senior for five years before dropping back again. At the moment Kevin Jerh is Chairman of the club and has been since 1987 and that takes up much of his spare time.

He is also a keen follower of the current Cork team and rarely misses a match in which they are involved. He will be travelling to Dublin this weekend having received the ticket which his All-Ireland victory entitles him to. However, he is not happy about the way in which tickets are distributed generally. "I feel the allocation of tickets is crazy. There are tickets going to people who have no notion of going. A lot of the real, genuine football fans will have to watch it on television and I think that’s totally wrong". The former Cork star is expecting an entertaining clash between the champions of Ulster and Munster. "I’d say it will be a right good game of football. The only thing I’m afraid of it that Cork’s passage to the final was bit too easy. I think the best game they got was from Clare who really put it up to them. I hope we don’t have any injuries because we always seem to have every year and it’s very unsettling. Derry are a fine team and I feel we haven’t even seen the best of them yet, but Cork definitely have the potential to win. I think it will be won and lost in the middle of the field. The hurling final was a great game to watch and if the football can come up to that it will be brilliant". Kevin Jerh has six children and already some are showing a talent for football. 14 year old Brendan captained Adrigole to an Under 14 Beara Championship this year, an Under 12 Championship two years ago. "He looks like having a good future". It would certainly be a tall order for him to live up to his father’s reputation, carved out during a glory-felled career at the top of the footballing world.


Written by the Hogan Stand Magazine

17th Sept 1993