"I love soccer. I'm still stone mad about soccer" - No regrets for talented soccer player O'Sullivan 6 months ago

"I love soccer. I'm still stone mad about soccer" - No regrets for talented soccer player O'Sullivan

The first thing that strikes you about Darran O'Sullivan is the Kerryman's deep passion for sport.

His illustrious inter-county career has come and gone but that doesn't mean he has left Kerry football behind him. Far from it in fact, O'Sullivan is a dyed in the wool Kerry supporter who almost a month on, is still at pains over his county's Munster semi-final loss to Cork.

Likewise, Manchester United wear him down every second week. Edinson Cavani, he hopes, is the man to save them from their slumber.

But while O'Sullivan's trickery, dynamism and electrifying pace will live long in the memory of any Gaelic football follower who had the pleasure to watch him play, what many don't know is that O'Sullivan could just as easily have made a career in soccer.

At the age of nine and while living in London, O'Sullivan was signed by the QPR youth academy. He looks back on those days with the fondest of memories.

"I was just thinking about it recently," he says at the launch of AIB and Sportsfile's launch of the Toughest Season photo-book. "I was eight or nine when I joined Queens Park Rangers. I was so used to dedicating time to training. You'd play with your local club and you'd train twice a week with them.

"Then I trained with QPR twice a week and then you might have a game every couple of weeks. That five or six nights a week that I was out training, gear ready coming from school.

"It really helped me get ready for the commitment to GAA and inter-county in my later life. I still probably prefer playing soccer, messing around. If I'm there with a ball, I'm constantly flicking it around like a child. It was all soccer for me (back then,)" he says.

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O'Sullivan moved to Kerry to Glenbeigh/Glencar in Kerry in his teenage years, where Gaelic football eventually took over.

"Do you remember the goalie, Higuita, from Colombia? We used to this international competition with my Sunday League team every year to Bournemouth.

"It was there where I got approached to play for QPR. I got offered trials with other clubs while we were up there because there were teams from all over the world. Higuita had a team there, there were teams from Colombia, teams from everywhere - we won it one year."

Portrait of Rene Higuita of Columbia.

"We'd book out an area in a caravan park. It was experiences like that which helped shape me as a footballer. I remember getting words of advice from soccer coaches under-10, being told that I had great hang time for headers, even though I was one of the smaller lads. I'd win most headers over bigger fellas because I could hang that little bit longer.

"I was playing Gaelic football as well in London at the time, and I was mad about that. It was when I got back to Ireland, and the interest wasn't as much [in soccer], Gaelic football took over. Football was everything, especially in Kerry.

I love soccer. I'm still stone mad about soccer. If anyone follows me on Twitter, it's all about United. I enjoyed it. I don't ever think back to 'What if?'

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"I don't think it'd have changed a whole pile, that I'd be earning millions now or anything!"

From QPR's youth academy to an All-Ireland winning captain, few could claim to have travelled the same path.

Closer to home, Kerry's shock elimination against Cork cuts deep and O'Sullivan is convinced that some a bit more winning experience is needed in this Kerry team.

"I think initially as a fan you'd be cross watching it, you'd be angry after it because of silly mistakes, it was just a bad day. But after that subsided I just kind of felt sorry for them really. Any other year you'd have a backdoor, you'd have a chance to regroup, to get back together or if you were out you'd get a chance to socialise or go back to the club. They didn't have that, and I just feel that in the last couple of weeks they've probably been replaying this game over, over, and over in the head.

"Last year at the All-Ireland I was sitting there. Four of us went together, myself, [Kieran] Donaghy, Donnnchadh [Walsh] and Anthony Maher. Four lads who were around for 10+ years, had won, had lost, but had been through the wringer enough to know what to do in that situation and I think we were lacking it that day. If we'd had one older head to come on that day I genuinely think Kerry would have won the All-Ireland. The same against Cork, if you had one or two ore experienced players coming on, maybe earlier as well.

"We have a bit of experience there in David [Moran] in Tommy [Walsh], but that's about it really. The rest of the players are very good players, have been great servants, have a lot of experience but weren't there for the glory days of the early noughties when we were successfully winning. And when we weren't winning we were coming straight back the following year and winning. We were able to channel that hurt and disappointment and fuel us for the following year. Maybe that's something we are lacking."

former Kerry footballer Darran O’Sullivan at the launch of AIB’s The Toughest Season photobook, a pictorial account of how hurling, football and camogie communities came together to support one another throughout one of the toughest years in history. Inspired by the strength of spirit within Gaelic Games communities, AIB partnered with Sportsfile, the GAA and the Camogie Association, to publish The Toughest Season, which captures in 120 images the resilience of clubs, fans, and communities before, during and after the COVID 19 lockdown. All proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to the AIB Together Fund supporting Age NI, Alone, FoodCloud, Soar and Pieta House