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15th Dec 2022

“I’ve trained every single session this year” – O’Sullivan still primed at 37

Niall McIntyre

Shane O’Sullivan retired from Waterford in 2017 knowing that, as far as Ballygunner were concerned, he still had a lot of hurling to do.

“Ballygunner is such a part of me that it was like, you don’t ever retire from your club,” O’Sullivan says now, six years on.

Six years on and, at 37, he’s still a key cog in one of the best club teams in Ireland. He’s still the man they send onto Tony Kelly when the Ballyea maestro is threatening to run riot completely.

Eventually, O’Sullivan managed to curtail Kelly in the Munster club final earlier this month and that’s part of the reason why, a year after winning their first All-Ireland, Ballygunner are back for another. To get there, they’ll have to beat Ballyhale again in this Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final.

“Whether I was running around after Tony Kelly or not, I would have always hoped that I’d have some involvement with the club and the team up to where I am now.

“So I suppose when I stopped with Waterford, I got a new lease of life and maybe a bigger picture perspective on life because my son Ferdia came along at that stage.

“That kind of released me to really enjoy and love my hurling,” adds. O’Sullivan

“That release and that bigger picture perspective and just to connect with what I really love which is my club, that gave me a great lease of life and I’m still energised by it since.”

O’Sullivan, who works as high-performance and leadership coach to several global companies says that ending his Waterford career at 31 helped to prolong his club career.

“I started out at 18 with Waterford, played for 12 or 13 years, Then with the club, there was a bit more relaxation so you had seasonal recovery breaks.

“You weren’t just always on and always playing. When you’re with the county, you get maybe two or three weeks off then you’re in with the club. If you’re a successful club, you roll around then, and you’re back in with the county.

“So that winter break wasn’t really happening for the county player four or five years ago.”

At 37, you’d think that time might be starting to catch up on him but O’Sullivan hasn’t missed a training this year.

“I’m lucky enough, my body is absolutely primed in a sense that I’ve trained every single session this year.

“I’d say I haven’t missed one. It’s not that the lads are forcing me, the lads would always be asking me are you okay, how’s your body, but the body is really good, and I think when you get that bit more experienced, you know what works, you do all the recovery, you get into the sea, you replenish, you look at the nutrition and you know what works.”

“The ability to zone out then when you’re not training.  That experience all stands to you.”

A Ballygunner man to the core, O’Sullivan says he’ll never forget that All-Ireland final winning goal Harry Ruddle scored last year. It was a moment he and his family were waiting their whole lives for.

“Personally… My dad passed away two or three years ago. All he ever talked about was an All-Ireland club. That was the one.

“Now he was talking about this when we weren’t even competing for county championships. I remember being at dinner dances and people looking saying ‘Who is this lunatic? He’s talking about All-Ireland clubs and we can’t even get out of our county!”

“So when I was very young that was absolutely drilled into me. Even the letters from the founding member of our club Jimmy McGinn, the dying letters he sent to my Dad. Him reading those out to me as a young man, I would nearly get emotional speaking about it. Talking about the vision of the club and what it meant.

“It’s an about an identity and a sense of place. When Mr McGinn came in and founded the club, it wasn’t about All-Ireland clubs at the time. It was about just giving people identity and hope.

“There was no team in our area. They used to call it the dead centre of Waterford because we had the biggest graveyard in Waterford. He just wanted to give people an identity and that’s where the club came from. Then they started to build on that and build on that.

“Then, over time, the vision transformed into ‘We want to be the best’. So for me, that belief and conviction was nearly sub-conscious. Even if I was not playing, I would be doing everything I could for this club to take them to the highest level because it was bred into me. I was lucky in a sense that I had that.”

“For this Sunday going up to Croke Park, for some people in our community that might be struggling, they might be under pressure for a few pound. It is the one break away over Christmas, to give them something to cheer about, to talk about. We are connected to all of that, it is what the GAA is all about. It is the same for the other three clubs and the ladies that are playing on Saturday. That is what we are really connected to as a team too.”

Ballygunner and former Waterford hurler Shane O’Sullivan pictured ahead of the AIB All-Ireland GAA Hurling Senior Club Championship Semi-Final, which takes place this Sunday, December 18th at Croke Park at 3.30pm.

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