The Leeside legends series: Hurling artistry of Tony O'Sullivan was a joy

The Leeside legends series: Hurling artistry of Tony O'Sullivan was a joy
Tony O'Sullivan in action for the Cork hurlers in 1990 against Antrim, a season he was picked as Hurler of the Year. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

CORK has produced a series of stylish hurlers down the decades and Tony O’Sullivan of Na Piarsaigh proved a real gem in the Cork colours in the eighties and nineties.

Born in 1963, Tony was a student at Scoil Iosagáin in Farranree before moving to the North Monastery where his hurling and football career began in earnest.

Just like many great hurlers and footballers in this city, Tony began playing in Na Piarsaigh street leagues where he learned many skills of hurling and with great encouragement from his father Denis he went on to make his name at the top level.

He also a very tasty footballer and pulled on the Cork geansaí at all levels before focusing fully on hurling.

Tony O'Sullivan in action for the Cork hurlers in the rain in 1985. Picture: INPHO
Tony O'Sullivan in action for the Cork hurlers in the rain in 1985. Picture: INPHO

Tony was on the Cork minor hurling team that defeated Kilkenny in the 1979 All-Ireland final and a year later was a member of the North Mon team coached by Dónal O’Grady that won the Harty Cup and All-Ireland colleges double.

“We had a very good team at the Mon that included players like Tomás Mulcahy and Paul O’Connor (RIP). I remember in the All-Ireland final against Birr CBS I was marked by Ken Hogan of Tipperary,” said Tony.

The skillful Tony joined the Cork senior panel in 1982 and soon experienced the highs and lows of the game.

“We flew through the Munster championship but were given a serious lesson in the All-Ireland final by Kilkenny.

“I can clearly remember being shattered after the game, as I had been substituted, but I took it on the chin and worked harder on my game,” added Tony.

Cork were again on the receiving end against Kilkenny in the 1983 final but the good times came back in 1984 when they came out on top against Offaly in the Centenary final. O’Sullivan completed his hat-trick of senior medals when Cork defeated Galway in the 1986 and 1990 finals.

Na Piarsaigh had never won a Cork senior hurling championship but all that changed in 1990 when they defeated St Finbarr’s after a replay.

Tony looked back on that famous day with a great deal of pride, as he has a special affection for the club which in his own words brought him a lot of success in the game.

“People in our club cried after our victory over the Barrs and it was a memorable day for me to help my club and its members achieve a lifelong ambition.”

One of the stars of that memorable Na Piarsaigh triumph was Christy Coughlan who died suddenly in 2001. His passing rocked the northside club. 

“Christy was simply an awesome player who epitomised the spirit of the Na Piarsaigh club and to be honest, there’s not a week goes by that his name doesn’t come in conversation at the club.

“For those of us who had the honour to know and play with him it was especially hard to take, as he was a super person and it took people many years to come to terms with his death.”

Tony played with some great players at inter-county level but he singled out Jimmy Barry-Murphy and Johnny Crowley.

“Every player that wears the Cork jersey is talented but JBM and Johnny were guys who you always wanted on your side.

"At club level Christy Coughlan, Paul O’Connor and Richie McDonnell were three of a number of great players at Na Piarsaigh."

Declan Hassett of the Cork Examiner once wrote: “If there is a better hurler in Ireland than Tony O’Sullivan I’ve missed him”.

Tony retired from inter-county hurling in 1993 after playing for 14 years at the top level as he felt he could no longer commit to the hectic schedule.

“I honestly think a lot of people do not understand the level of commitment that is needed to play with county and club.

“To be successful at hurling you have got to practise very hard at your skills and that is my advice to the many aspiring stars that want to make it.”

O’Sullivan’s list of hurling achievements also includes hurling All-Stars in 1982, 1986, 1988, 1990 and 1992 as well as the Texaco Hurler of the Year in 1990.

As well as winning many honours, he struck up some wonderful friendships within the sport. A gentleman off the field, Tony O’Sullivan was a master on it.

FACTFILE:

Tony O'Sullivan waves to the crowd after being honoured as a member of the 1984 Cork Jubilee team at Croke Park in 2009. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
Tony O'Sullivan waves to the crowd after being honoured as a member of the 1984 Cork Jubilee team at Croke Park in 2009. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
  • Tony has three senior hurling All-Ireland medals as well as five All-Star awards.
  • Tony helped the North Mon win the Dr Harty Cup and All-Ireland Colleges titles in 1980.
  • One of Tony’s proudest moments came in 1990 when Na Piarsaigh defeated St Finbarr’s to win their first county.
  • O’Sullivan won a Texaco Hurler of the Year in 1990.
  • A talented dual player, he represented the Cork footballers at every level before concentrating on hurling.
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