Kerry Footballers

Tracing the football career of Denis O Sullivan

June 7th, 2011
by Weeshie Fogarty

When the 1962 Kerry under 21 Munster winning team was honored in Cork recently, (they were the first ever winners of Munster) Denis o Sullivan was present to take his bow. He had been mid field with Mick Fleming that day in Kenmare in 1962 and his record is most unique. Denis was a brilliant player for club and county and here we trace his career.

Was so unlucky to miss out on Kerry's Glory Days of the Late 60s and Early 70s

Though more than content with his innings as an outstanding club and county man, Tralee born Denis O'Sullivan isn't quite in love with the gods that rule on eventualities on the football field. Those up above who have the power to decide when a player's career comes to its end. Certainly Denis O'Sullivan's career was cut tragically short.

The trouble with trading in nostalgia is that hindsight always seems to come out the best with the reviewer's wishes trailing behind. So be it with our man Denis. No matter how much he's asked to wind back the clock, the agony of what was missed is seen as the blemish on what was a truly excellent sojourn on the biggest stages of all.

In cinema parlance, Denis O'Sullivan's career would make for a dramatic tearjerker. A promise unfulfilled courtesy, of not his own inadequacies, but by a cruel twist of fate. A rising star that was forced to quit the game he excelled at before he had clocked up twenty four years. It's ironic that such a brilliant prospect should be left fingering defeats as pointers to the highlights of his career, but such is the way of football's often cruel revenge.

In rolling back the years Denis, a Kerins O'Rahilly's citizen to the marrow of the bone, recalls the defeats he suffered with Kerry Seniors in the 1964 and '65 All-Ireland finals against Galway (on both occasions) and the national decider of '68 when the Kingdom, O'Sullivan et al went down to the new trendsetters Down. Failure never rested easily in O'Sullivan's mind

"I suppose getting to three All-Ireland finals was an achievements in itself but I'd rather not have to pick out defeats as being highlights my career, especially when I remember that there was never anything but a kick of the ball between ourselves and Galway, for instance", "Down were a different matter though and we would have been very lucky to have sneaked a win over them. They had some great individual players on that '68 team, as good as any of the present Down players I believe. Their team brought a new freshness and vitality to the football scene at that time. Their forwards were very hard to keep an eye on and they remind me of the forwards that Dublin and Kerry had in the seventies when both counties played out some great matches", Denis reflected.

In the 1964 All-Ireland decider Denis lined out for Kerry in centre half back berth, in the corresponding tie one year later, wing back and against Down in '68 again at wing back. Interestingly though he always reckoned on midfield being his preferred position. "I always liked the sense of freedom that midfield gives you. I liked to be able to roam around the field rather than being tied down to just marking a man", he says.

Born and reared at Strand Street, Tralee, Denis was ever and always a Kerins O'Rahilly's stalwart playing for his home club mostly from midfield or 'oftimes on the forty where his intelligent play and sure footedness either saw him makes scores or take scores.

Unfortunately for the one-time tenacious county defender, there was to be no joy in terms of silverware while playing his silky skills with his beloved Tralee side. Thankfully his outings with the Kingdom promised and indeed delivered much more in the way of kudos. He won two All-Ireland Minor medals with Kerry, the first one being chalked up against Westmeath in 1962 and adding to it the following year when the Faithful county were denied. On a team which was physically very strong and one which played a brand of football way beyond their years, Denis O'Sullivan was an ace in a loaded pack.

Such was the strength in depth of burgeoning young star footballer around his home town at that time that at least seven of the aforementioned Kerry Minor team in 1962 were from Tralee, either representing his own Kerins O'Rahilly's club, or John Mitchells or Austin Stacks. In his teenage years, the young O'Sullivan had the best of mentors too to help him develop his innate skills. Men like Legions Jackie Lyne and Dingle's Doctor Jim Brosnan were top class advisors while his father Daniel, a razor keen O'Rahilly's player in his time was always supportive. Football was always the number one topic in the family and couldn't but be because football was like a religion in Tralee as a whole", Denis acknowledged.

A product of Strand Road National School, Denis O'Sullivan began his working life at the age of fifteen as a shop assistant in a local grocery shop. Later he was to seek and find work with the Henry Denny Bacon Company in Tralee (on the factory floor) before being promoted to Sales and the position of Company Representative in double quick time. Eleven years ago however, the take over of the Henry Denny concern meant that Denis and many more employees were left surplus to requirements and so using his redundancy money, Denis set up his own wholesale bacon enterprise.

Operating out of his home base in Oak Park, Tralee. Denis has developed a loyal and growing client base for his bacon and pork. Buying and selling his produce locally from wholesalers in Tralee and retail shops there respectively. O'Sullivan has through to his character made the most from the ill luck that befell him back in the early eighties.

Married now for some twenty seven years to Sheila (ironically a John Mitchells fan!) Denis and his wife are parents to three daughter and a son (who is an avid footballer with the Kerins O'Rahilly's club such is the demands on the time available to the self employed O'Sullivan that the football coaching etc has had to be ditched for the present but his interest in the club, county and game is undiminished however.

Just like his time with the county Senior team, Denis's memories of his involvement with the O'Rahilly's premier fifteen is a mixed bag. "I remember being on the team in '63 when we lost to John Mitchells in the Senior County Championship final by three points. I especially remember that defeat because with twelve minutes to go in the game, we were coasting. We were seven points in front and still managed to lose out. Looking back on that game I think complacency had a lot to do with it. We thought we had it won in the second half and took our foot off the pedal". Amazingly the most galling statistic on Denis O'Sullivan's curriculum vitae is his conspicuous lack of honour with his home club. It's left to his days documented with the Kingdom at different grades to put the gloss on that short but eventful career.
Following on from his All-Ireland Minor success Denis was lucky enough to be part of the county Junior team which clinched the 1963 All-Ireland title at the expense of Manchester in a game played on the home ground of the champions of Britain. Even more was to follow and Under 21 All-Ireland medals were collected in 1964 and '65 in the company of such artists as Pat Griffin, Paidi ODonoghue, Mick Morris and Joe Joe Barrett.

Such was the inherent talent of the man, that Denis O'Sullivan was head hunted straight from Minor ranks by the Kingdom's Senior team management of the time. Standing at five feet ten inches high and weighting in at a healthy twelve and a half stone, Denis went on to play at the highest level with Kerry from '64 to '69. A cartilage operation at the beginning of his career and another one in '69 however combined to wreck his ambitions of a more fruitful and lengthy time with Kerry.

Almost certain to have been picked alongside the likes of Mick Morris, Mick O'Connell and Mick O'Dwyer on the Kerry team which secured the Sam Maguire Cup in 1969 and again in '70. Denis O'Sullivan very much regrets his missing out on the glorious end to the sixties. It's even more sad when one considers that had Denis succeeded in winning an All-Ireland Senior Championship medal in '69 he would have thus amassed a unique collection of medals, possibly becoming the first man in G.A.A. history to have won All-Ireland medals at Minor, Under 21, Junior and Senior level plus a National league honour. What a clean sweep that would have been! It was invariable John Mitchels who put a spanner into the O'Rahilly's works during O'Sullivan's era. He remembers his team being thwarted by the combined efforts of the likes of the Sheehy brothers, Niall, Paidi, Brian and Sean Og and the O'Shea brothers too. Still he had never any inclination to switch trainers and become a member of the more successful Mitchells stable which claimed five Senior Championship titles on the trot.

A man who admired the respective abilities of Sligo's Michael Kearns, Galway's Seamus Leydon and Joe Corcoran of Mayo, the attacking half back with a sure pair of hands nowadays follows club and county fortunes religiously. He remains cautiously optimistic on both fronts that progress can be made without putting any timescale on such advances though. He says that he wouldn't back against either the O'Rahilly's or Kerry upsetting the odds in the coming year. One wonders what either party would give to have a Denis O'Sullivan type player among their ranks.

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