One of the most understated members of the Kildare panel on their run to the Christy Ring Cup final has been Paul Sullivan, the 28-year-old corner-back who has quietly been going about his business with remarkable composure in his first year on the intercounty scene.
The Naas man has been a model of consistency since the hurlers began the year with a Walsh Cup clash with Laois, so much so that he has played every minute of all of Kildare’s nine games across league and championship. Sullivan has quite emphatically made the number 4 shirt his own, and alongside John Doran and Cian Forde, has formed a tidy full-back line that has remained pretty much unchanged all year.
“The full-back line has been pretty much in situ since the start of the league, and even the Walsh Cup we would have played together,” Sullivan told the Kildare Post.
“It’s good to be playing consistently with the two lads – we know each other’s dos and don’ts and whether he’s going to go left or right when coming out with the ball. You pick up on those things through playing all the games through the league and it has stood to us in the Christy Ring.”
The Naas defender is also a key part of his club’s senior football side, and his tight-marking, combative style translates well across both codes. He made the decision to devote more time towards hurling this year and throw his lot in with Joe Quaid’s Kildare side, a decision that will grant him a first ever outing in Croke Park.
“That was a big motivating factor to go in with them when Joe rang back in November,” Sullivan admitted. “The chance to get to play up in Croker was a big factor in going in with the county I suppose.”
Having come onto the county scene somewhat late in his career, Sullivan was made wait for a first win in Kildare white. Eight defeats in a row came from his debut onwards, but once Kildare got their first win in the Christy Ring Cup against Roscommon, there was momentum building all the time.
“It has been very enjoyable from day one, and winning from the start of the Christy Ring [campaign] has made it that much more enjoyable again,” he said.
“It wasn’t easy back in the bleak months through the league, but our main goal when we sat down together at the start of January was everyone put down on one sheet was to win the Christy Ring. With Saturday coming, we have a 50/50 shot at it.”
“The league didn’t go according to plan. I suppose we were playing in 2A – where they were last year as well – and I suppose Joe made it clear from the start that he was going to use it to get a look at plenty of lads and use the squad more than he did the previous year.
“It was a higher standard and London were in it with us; unfortunately, they relegated us, but it was a good standard and that has stood to us going through the Christy Ring. Through the league it was just basic things that were letting us down and that’s what we’ve worked on since we took the two-week break after the league.”
Sullivan has settled into his role as a county hurler with apparent ease, judging by his performances, though there were parts of the step up to the intercounty scene that he had small struggles with initially. The added five minutes at the end of each half in comparison to club competitions was notable for the defender, and many games these days tend to peer towards 80 minutes when added time at the end of each half is taken into account, meaning there is a big jump in fitness requirements at this level.
“The first thing I noticed was the 35 minutes a side,” Sullivan said of the step up from the club game.
“For a lot of the league the tongue was hanging out for the last 10 or 15 minutes of games. Even a first half could go to 38 or 40 minutes, so you could be out there for 80 minutes in total and that’s an extra 20 on a normal club game. It’s something you get used to, when you’re doing the training and the hard slogging through December and January. The standard obviously when you’re playing the likes of Kerry and Carlow, you need to be sharp and your first touch needs to go up a level again.”
A Christy Ring Cup medal would be a fitting reward for Sullivan following a debut year in which he has arguably been Kildare’s most consistent performer, and at the very least a run out in Croke Park will certainly go down as one of his most memorable days as hurler.
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