September 04, 1992
Cork's Tony O'Sullivan
Marksman Supreme Tony O'Sullivan
Aiming to add another notch to his impressive medal haul on Sunday
Tony O'Sullivan was just turned 19 when the media singled him out for Stardom. The date was May 30, 1982. Tipperary came to Cork with high hopes of beating the Leesiders in the Championship for the first time in nine years, but as things transpired it ended in an astounding eight point win for the men in the "vivid" red jersey.
That day the young Na Piarsaigh supremo displayed artistry, work-rate excellent finishing and was an added menace to every player the blue and gold selectors tried on him. He left his mark in a proficient manner, scored seven points in all and made the country sit up and take notice that he was going to be around for a long time. One could hardly have a better start to big time hurling than that and Tony quickly went on to greater things and has collected almost every honour down the storied years. Today he is still as elusive as ever, and while it doesn't get any easier as one gets older the game is still something really special to him, and in years to come when future historians do set their minds to finding an All-Star forward line of bygone years, they will quickly point the finger at the North-City side phenomenon.
"If there is a better hurler in Ireland than Tony O'Sullivan, then, I've missed him," wrote Declan Hassett of the Cork Examiner last July. "The true sign of a good player is that he can always make room for himself in the tightest of situations and always appears to have time to strike. On several occasions against Limerick, Tony tipped, flicked the sliothar away from hurleys, eventually emerging with the ball and picking out a loose man. We are watching a real artiste at the height of his powers and the game will be the poorer when he decides to leave the inter-county scene. After his displays against Tipperary and Limerick, there are years in the man from Na Piarsaigh."
Young boys have almost grown to manhood since Tony won his first All-Ireland Minor hurling medal as a sixteen year old against Kilkenny in 1979. He was lucky in that he was able to make Underage teams by seven days (being born on January 7th) and in 1981 helped to complete the "double" when he figured in the good company of Niall Cahalane, Tony Davis, Tony Leahy, Tom Mannix, Eoin O'Mahony, John Cleary and Colm O'Neill on the Minor football team that defeated Derry.
Tony, who is a top Sales Representative for New Ireland Assurance, had excellent schooling on the way up and rarely found scoring a problem. He acknowledges that he learned quite a lot from his father Denis, brothers Jim and Michael and club mentors during the mid and late 'seventies. In 1981 alone he won twelve medals, in the city division, the county Championship (Na Piarsaigh won Minor football and hurling titles and Under 21 football and hurling titles to establish a new record), and at provincial and All-Ireland level.
Then two weeks after winning an All-Ireland football medal he was drafted on to the Under 21 side to face Galway in the All-Ireland final replay at Ennis. Earlier the teams had drawn (Cork 0-14, Galway 2-8 at the same venue but with O'Sullivan's foraging and clever link-ups with Dave Barry, Niall O'Connor, Ephie Fitzgerald and Donie Kelleher the pieces fell together, and as the Tribesmen rapidly lost composure the Reds rose to the occasion and won, 2-9 to 1-6. interestingly, goalkeeper Ger Cunningham was sub on the team
It all began for him in Scoil Iosagain and the good influence of teacher Willie Clifford and Kieran Hourihane. With North Monastery he won Dr. Harty Cup and All-Ireland Colleges medals in 1980 under the watchful eye of Murt Murphy and then Donal O'Grady, who was to captain Cork to win the League in 1981 and was full back on the All-Ireland winning Centenary team of 1984. Always ambitious and anxious to do well the eagle-eyed newcomer enjoyed the highest possible honour for a 16 year old when Cork pulled one over Kilkenny in the '79 Minor decider. Ger Cunningham and Kevin Hennessy were colleagues of his on the team but the honours up front went to Tony Coyne and Tadhg Coakley who scored 2-4 between them in the 2-11 to 1-9 victory.
Over the next couple of seasons he pulled his weight impressively with numerous teams in both codes and made his inter-county Senior debut in the League against Galway at Pairc Ui Chaoimh in 1981. Early that Summer, Cork were sensationally dumped out of the Championship by Clare at Thurles and many felt it would take some time before another winning side was blended together. They started the '82 campaign with what looked, at the time, a very difficult assignment against Tipp, but once the Premier County were out of the way there was no stopping the Rebels and they scorched to victory over Clare before Waterford were annihilated (5-31 to 3-6) with Tony O'Sullivan contributing a dozen points.
This win gave Cork their 38th provincial crown, but as events transpired they were left to survey the ruins as Kilkenny chalked up a very impressive eleven point victory in the All-Ireland final. Later that year O'Sullivan returned to the Under 21 scene and his clever individual touches as well as a bright understanding with Tony Coyne, Kevin Hennessy and company did much to ensure that the dreams of an All-Ireland title were fully realised and it was gripping final against Galway at Birr. Over the four matches Tony left his imprint in a big way by contributing the phenomenal total of 3-22.
An illness kept him out of the 1983 Championship but he was back the following year to play a vital role in the defeat of Tipperary and then Offaly in the Centenary All-Ireland in Thurles. Against Tipp, Cork looked down and out when they trailed by four points with seven minutes remaining but they stormed back for a grandstand finish that yielded 2-2 with Tony O'Sullivan, who had come on as a substitute for Tim Crowley, securing a vital goal and then forcing goalkeeper John Sheehy to make the save that eventually led to another three pointer from Seanie O'Leary. It was an enthralling match witnessed by an attendance of 50,093. In the final against Offaly he whipped over points (six in all) from various distances and angles to which the Midlanders had no answer.
Two more Munster medals followed in 1985 an 1986 - he holds seven in all and will be playing in his sixth Senior final - and while Cork looked lethargic in the '85 All-Ireland semi-final when losing to Galway in a downpour at Croke Park they were back to score an astonishing 4-13 to 2-15 victory over the Westerners in the final of 1986 after Waterford, Clare and Antrim were beaten along the way. At the time Cork had not been enjoying the best of fortune in Senior football although the 1986 Munster final scoreline somewhat flattered Kerry at Killarney.
As things transpired, however Cork's gusty performance was not sufficient to prevent a repeat of the '84 and '85 deciders and the Kingdom hit the home stretch to win by 0-12 to 0-8. Ironically, Tony O'Sullivan came on for Youghal's Martin McCarthy in that game but Kerry's notorious reputation for victory over their rivals held firm for another year, but by then the Na Piarsaigh dual-player had gone from the inter-county football scene.
In 1987 Cork got the shock of their lives when they were denied their sixth successive Munster crown by Tipperary after a replay at Killarney and they weren't to win it again until the Summer of 1990 when they themselves spoilt Tipperary's bid for four-in-a-row. In retrospect, I believed the Leesiders were robbed of a goal in the '87 showdown at the scenic Kerry venue. It happened when Tony O'Sullivan ran on to a high ball from Teddy McCarthy and connected to beat Ken Hogan. However, the umpires ruled that the Cork forward was inside the square, but, as I saw it, Tony was moving onto the ball and could not be said to have been static inside the square
Later he described the controversial incident in the dressing room: "I saw the ball coming across from Teddy Mc and ran in to connect. I saw the ball finish up in the net but was most surprised when the umpire did not put up the flag." Subsequently, ecstatic enthusiasts in the Premier County were favourable comparing their heroes with the great teams of 1949 / 1951 and 1961 / 1965 period but they had only one All-Ireland to show for their efforts before O'Sullivan and Cork bounced back for a scintillating Munster final victory in 1990.
Some people argue that they played way above themselves in winning, 4-16 to 2-14, but it's difficult to go along with that because they subsequently regained the Liam McCarthy trophy and in similar circumstances to 1980 when they were again the underdogs. Tony missed the first two wins over Kerry and Waterford but was back to record five point outings against Antrim and Galway. Let's not forget either that he has four All-Star Awards show for in 1982, 1986, 1988 and 1990 was voted the Texaco Award "Hurler of the Year," in the latter season.
In 1991 he was elected captain of his county following Na Piarsaigh's long-awaited county Senior triumph the previous year when it took two games to defeat the mighty Barrs. All he can promise now is to give it his best shot against the old rivals on final day and I see no reason why he cannot continue to sparkle in the game for some time to come.
Taken from Hogan Stand Magazine 04-09-92
Written by Tom Morrison.
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