By Frank Durkan
The world of Gaelic Football was saddened by the news on May 10 of the passing of Michael (Mickey) O’Sullivan.
Born in New York City in 1926, he was one of four children of the marriage of Roger O’Sullivan to Julia Corkery. At the height of the depression in 1933, Roger and Julia returned to Ireland and opened a business in Ballyhahill, Co. Limerick, where they raised their family until Mickey returned to the United States in 1946.
During his early years in Ballyhahill, Mickey learned the rudiments of Gaelic football and hurling, and although expert in the wielding of the caman, his first love was football. At the age of 18 he was selected on the Limerick County Football team, where he gave promise of the skill and brilliance which was later to distinguish him while playing for the local Kerry team in New York. When he returned to America, he served a two-year stint in Korea with the U.S. Army before returning to New York.
Though short in stature, he was a giant on the football field, striding the landscape of Gaelic Park like a Colossus. Crowds came Sunday after Sunday to see this man display a skill and finesse in ball handling and shooting that has seldom been rivaled – either here or in Ireland. Once in possession inside the 50-yard line, he was an imminent threat to the opposing side, and he had an uncanny ability to feint and swerve, leaving his opponent blundering in the opposite direction while he would glide clear into scoring position. And score he did – hundreds and hundreds of times – left foot, right foot, fisted ball. Mickey O’Sullivan’s effort would promptly be reflected on the scoreboard.
One of his great moments came in Dublin’s Croke Park in 1950 when he captained a lightly regarded New York team to contest the National Football League final against Cavan – then a powerhouse of Gaelic football in Ireland. The so-called experts in the press corps were concerned only with the margin of the Cavan victory. But that was before the match. Mickey O’Sullivan, with a personal tally of one goal and two points, astounded the pundits and sent the Croke Park crowd home shaking their heads in wonderment at the audacity of the young “Yankee” captain, whose team had humiliated one of the great Irish football teams of that era.
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In 1951 and ’52 he again wore the New York jersey with distinction in games against Meath and Cork, and in 1954 he led New York to a well-deserved victory over Mayo at New York’s Polo Grounds to capture the coveted St. Brendan Cup. In that game an early blitz of Mayo goals portended disaster for the home team, but Mickey O’Sullivan, showing all the grit and tenacity of a champion under fire, teamed up with his brother, Eddie, and the late great Tom “Gega” O’Connor to eke out a splendid 1-point victory.
Wherever and whenever he played, he adorned the field with grace and dignity, bringing honor to the Gaelic code and thrilling the crowds who came to see him play.
But more so than his ability, was his scrupulous adherence to the rules of the game. This writer cannot recall – nor has he met anyone else who can recall – a referee whistling up Mickey O’Sullivan for an infraction of the rules. He played hard but he played clean. He took his knocks (and there were plenty of them) and never grumbled. And when he finally hung up his boots, he left us a legacy of accomplishment and dedication to be savored with pride by all who love the games of the Gael.
In later years, he successfully operated a bar and restaurant on Broadway at 225th Street, where a mural on the wall showed him leading the New York team prior to the Cavan match in Dublin in 1950.
Some years later, he was employed by the Sch’fer Brewing Company as a salesman and his popularity and personality gained him the reputation of being one of the most successful salesmen in the New York City area.
As with any undertaking in his life, he battled adversity with courage and fortitude, but he finally succumbed to cancer on Mother’s Day of this year.
He is survived by his wife, Virginia, and three sons, Roger, Michael and Patrick. His daughter Annmarie predeceased him in 1992.
His loss is irreparable and his contribution to the game of Gaelic football and the principles which have sustained it defy measurement.
We shall not see his likes again.