Once the beating heart of Dublin’s defence, and perhaps their most stylish and versatile performer of the last decade, he hasn’t kicked a ball in nearly a year now. Hasn’t been able to.
“I didn’t really phase it out at all,” explained O’Sullivan of a career that simply stalled in June of 2021 due to injuries. “I went from eating, sleeping, drinking football to absolutely zero overnight.”
In the O’Sullivan credit column post-retirement were eight All-Ireland medals, a bunch of All-Stars and a remarkable personal record of never once experiencing defeat in the Leinster championship. On the debit side was chiefly the battering his body took. It was screaming at him to stop for a finish up.
His troubles began with a hamstring snap in the opening minutes of the 2010 Leinster championship clash with Wexford.
The short-term gain – missing out on the five-goal drubbing by Meath two weeks later, Dublin’s last defeat in Leinster – was more than offset by the fact that subsequent hamstring, hip and back problems were all linked to that initial tear.
In the end, it was a calf injury that did for the now 34-year-old. He remembers the moment he knew it was all over. A challenge game against Monaghan last year that followed months of torturous rehab work.
“With the programme I was following, eventually it got to the stage where I just needed to let go and see if this was going to actually work so I tried to come on in that game for a couple of minutes and the calves just went pretty much straight away,” said O’Sullivan. “So that was it. Yeah, I knew there and then that that was it.”
Which brings us neatly to O’Sullivan’s day job as a tax advisor, dealing with what he terms ‘high net worth individuals’. Many of them are well known sports figures; Premier League players, golfers, professional rugby players, Olympians and the like who have secured their futures, financially at least, long before middle age.
O’Sullivan probably put his own body through more than many of his clients did yet there was no bag of cash for him to dip into upon retirement. Not a penny. Playing for Dublin may have even cost him at times.
And as he says himself, his social life “took a bit of a hammering” from the moment he became a Dublin senior. So does he ever feel resentful when he’s sifting through the phonebook-figure salaries of the rich and famous?
“Truly, honestly, not for a second, not for a second because once I start thinking like that you’re viewing the GAA in a different light, a light I would never like to see it viewed in,” insisted O’Sullivan.
“What the organisation has is really unique and it is sport at its purest level. So to have that big cache of money at the end of your career, it [the GAA] would need to be something that it’s not and it’s something that I would never like to see it become.”
O’Sullivan is happy with his lot. Dublin legend, father-of-two, career on the up. He hopes to get back playing a bit of ball with Kilmacud Crokes too though only at a ‘social level’. The impact of injuries means that playing for the Crokes’ first team that contested an All-Ireland final just last February is “highly unrealistic for me”.
As for Dublin, he’ll simply be another face in the crowd when the Sky Blues face Meath on Sunday in a Leinster semi-final.
“I am highly optimistic about Dublin’s chances this year,” said O’Sullivan. “I think you look at the team and it’s still, in my opinion, one of the strongest teams, if not the strongest team, in the country.”
Interestingly, O’Sullivan’s Crokes, the reigning Dublin and Leinster champions didn’t have a single player in the 26 for the recent win over Wexford. Perhaps given how his career was thieved from him in the end, O’Sullivan may advise Paul Mannion to go back in with the Dubs at some stage?
“I don’t think anyone would be advising Paul Mannion of anything,” responded O’Sullivan. “He is very much his own man and it is a really admirable quality when people know exactly what they want and are not really afraid of what other people might think of the situation.”
*Cian O’Sullivan was speaking at the launch of the EirGrid Power Play Awards. EirGrid, the official timing partner of the GAA, will recognise the power plays that shape the 2022 football and hurling championships.