Declan was an all time great

November 25th, 2014
by Weeshie Fogarty

Hurtling along on an underground train under New York City last week the news came through, Declan O Sullivan had announced his retirement. I don't have one of those space age I phones but my friend Christy Riordan C/R videos Caherciveen owns one and the news was texted on to him. We were in that city that never sleeps for the launch of our DVD on the history of the GAA in the city. A story for another day.  Declan o Sullivan one of the greatest Kerry footballers I have ever seen. Impossible to say who was the greatest of all but having seen all the Kerry legends since the fifties I will say without fear of contradiction that the Dromid Pearses man was equal to the very best.

His list of achievements has been well and truly documented since he retired but for me it is not what he won but his displays in contributing g to those victories which will forever remain etched in the memory.  I had the first glimpse of his budding greatness and supreme skills watching him play with his college Colaiste Na Skellige and one of those games was for me the greatest under age match I have ever witnessed. It was the All Ireland Hogan Cup semi-final between the South Kerry College and St Jarlets of Tuam.

That memorable day a star was born, or should I say two stars were born. It developed in to a shoot out between Declan and Michael Meehan of Galway. The match finished in a draw after extra time and in the re-play Jarlets staggered over the line by a point again after extra time. Declan was majestic, the star both days. I was mesmerized by this young lad's performance and left the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick utterly convinced that I had seen the greatest under age games ever played. Ninety minutes of magnificent football. Forty scores, all points, thirty seven of them from play. And Declan, glorious in defeat giving all present an indication of what was yet to come. Seamus Moynihan had also signaled his claim to future stardom when he had led St Brendan's to Hogan Cup victory in 1992. And here I am equating Declan's claim to legendary status to the Glenflesk man. Both men possessed that indefinable quality, greatness. 

Jack o Connor was manager of the Kerry College and his influence on Declan's career in relation to coaching and guidance at such an influential age was in my opinion the catalyst for what Kerry supporters world wide were to marvel at during the coming years. Declan made his championship debut with Kerry the following year, 2003.  Declan o Sullivan simply "had it all". Six feet tall and built to match. He possessed all the skills of the game, and contemplating on his career during the week I fail to find a single fault in his play. A rare thing in any Gaelic footballer.

Some time ago former Kerry trainor Pat Flanagan spoke to me on my Radio Kerry Terrace Talk program and his description of Declan summed everything which I believed in as regards the Dromid man. "He was powerful, lethal, strong, explosive and he more than any one was the decisive influence in Kerry reaching six All Ireland finals in a row". The ultimate tribute from one of Kerry greatest ever trainers. Declan played in every forward position for Kerry but I like many more believe that center forward was his best spot. >From here he could roam the field, rarely beaten for a ball when he challenged for possession. Beautiful balance, great hands, devastation acceleration as he headed for goal, equally good from both left and right legs and to watch him settle and swing over a long range point was a thing of beauty which brought back memories of the late great Tadghie Lyne.

His Munster final and Croke Park displays continually thrilled the Kerry faithful but for me one of his least unknown greatest ever displays occurred in late November 2004. I was present at the South Kerry final in rain sodden Waterville as Declan led Dromid to their first ever Murphy Cup final victory. Famed St Mary's Caherceiveen were their opponents and another South Kerry legend Maurice Fitzgerald was in their ranks. Dromid won after an enthralling, memorable, bruising battle in atrocious conditions. This was what the magnificent of what Kerry football is all about. Declan ranged all over the field, there was no quarter asked or given, he was awarded man of the match and as his beloved Dromid won 0-9 to 0-7 he kicked the last and decisive point from a free out near the side line. Here we saw what Declan o Sullivan was made of, he was just twenty one years of age a birthday he celebrated that day and I had the privilege of interviewing on the field shortly after the final whistle. Was this his best ever display?

Impossible in this short column to fully capture just how supreme this man was, however the greatest tribute I could pay to this always chivalrous, polite, and quite person, on the field but I should add when in action he could mix it every way an opponent wanted, is to compare him to other legends from South Kerry. What is it down there in that region, Mick o Connell, Mick o Dwyer, John Egan, Maurice Fitzgerald, Jack o Shea, Bryan Sheehan, indisputable legends of the game and there is Declan o Sullivan equal to all.

 Injuries have brought his inter county career to an end; he has won every honor in the game. In every single match he played he laid his body on the line, every day, week in and week out, year in, year out for Dromid, South Kerry and Kerry he shed blood, sweat and tears. Thank you Declan for the memories and to you, your wife and sons we wish you a well deserved and enjoyable retirement from the field of play. But I am utterly convinced we will see him in the not too distant future patrolling the sidelines for club, district or county. Now that's a thought?

Fogra; My deepest sympathies to the family of the late Gus Cremin who died last week. Kerry's oldest surviving captain Gus won his All Ireland medal with Kerry in 1946. He came on as a sub in the re-play and kicked the decisive point to secure victory for The Kingdom. In 1945 he starred as Shannon Rangers beat my own club The Legion in the county final. I had the great privilege of getting to know Gus in recent years and we often had long chats about his life and times. A gentleman of the highest quality, kind and gentle in word and deed his passing has seen the end of an era in Kerry football, an age which we will never see again. Gus Cremin, Eddie Dowling, also deceased and the fit and well Mick Finnucan three names that were ingrained in my memory as a young Killarney lad growing up in that town. To Gus's wife Celia, daughters Margaret and Mary Rose, sons John and Brendan, grand children and other family members we offer our deepest sympathies.  

Radio Kerry - The Voice of the Kingdom