Stepping out in front of 40,000 people at an opening ceremony would send shivers down any footballer’s spine – and for DCU striker Alan O’Sullivan, that moment was extra-special.
O’Sullivan was part of an Irish side that defied the odds to finish in fifth place at the World University Games in Gwangju, South Korea.
But the DCU and Shelbourne ace knows he is lucky that he is even able to take to a football pitch after a serious car accident five years ago nearly killed him.
“Just being a part of the crowd of athletes in front of that many people was chilling.
“I can’t really put it into words but I don’t think I’ll ever experience anything like it ever again. To think that Premier League footballers get to play in front of crowds like that every week – that inspires you to kick on in your own career.
“Five years ago when I was 15 I was hit by a car crossing the road. It was fairly bad to be honest, and I think there was only a slight chance I’d survive. I fractured my skull in two places and they operated on my brain but luckily it all worked out.
“It was nervy coming back to football at the start. I remember heading a ball for the first time since the accident and being scared, but thankfully there was no reason to fear it.
“Before the accident I used to take the p*** in training and everything but after it I said to myself: ‘I’ve got a chance here so let’s make something of it.’ That was when I started to change my attitude and work a bit harder in training.”
O’Sullivan made an amazingly quick recovery from his injuries, and within a few months had signed his first professional contract with Scottish giants Aberdeen.
“I was only out for three months! I got back playing just before Christmas and by April I’d been offered a contract at Aberdeen.
“Within five months of being back after the accident I had been capped by Ireland at youth level and had signed my first contract. It all just seemed to work out so quickly.”
Battling back from the injury gave O’Sullivan the desire to excel as a footballer – and he showed his quality in abundance at this year’s World University Games – playing a starring role as the Irish team topped a group consisting of China, Russia and Uruguay.
“The highlight was scoring in the 2-1 win over Russia and getting the equaliser in the fifth place play-off against France as well.
“The Russians were an excellent side and really they were a lot better than us technically – but we worked hard, we were solid defensively and battled to earn the win.
“I didn’t think we would top the group going over there to be honest, but we managed to do it.
“There was no doubt we had a great team but I wondered whether we would gel. In the end we did click and had a bit of craic and a good laugh together as well.”
When O’Sullivan returned from Scotland in 2014 he signed for League of Ireland First Division side Shelbourne – but after a promising first season with Shels, this year has not quite gone to plan.
“This season with Shels, for me personally, and for the club I suppose, it has been a bit of a frustrating one. I haven’t featured as much as I would have wanted.
“We still have an outside chance of making the play-offs with UCD slipping up, but really with the squad we have we should be higher up in the league.”
There are plenty of reasons for O’Sullivan to look forward to the year ahead in DCU – both on and off the pitch.
Combining sports and studies can be difficult for students but O’Sullivan insists it is manageable.
“I’m studying Sports Science and Health but it’s not that hard to balance it with the football.
“Shels is only down the road so I’ve got plenty of time to study and train properly.
“With DCU we have a good enough side to challenge for the league and the Collingwood Cup. Most of the lads from last year’s team are still there and there will be some new faces coming in as well so we definitely have to be positive about our chances.”
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