He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

Peter Beadle managed Newport County between 2005-2008 in Step 2.  He kept them up the first year. In his second season, County missed the Play-Offs by 3 points and when this near miss was repeated 12 months later, he was sacked by club directors.  For several weeks, the club was in limbo while their great and good agonised on a replacement.  (Dean Holdsworth was eventually chosen, followed much later by Tim Harris as General Manager). Senior player Sam O’Sullivan, with 150 Newport games behind him, felt worn down by the uncertainty and decided to join Merthyr.   Thus, Sam started his meanderings down through Welsh League clubs, just fun relief from building his business in Cardiff.  Nowadays, Sam is proud owner of the Cardiff-based MD of SOS Olympic Excellence Gym and probably the most qualified personal trainer in South Wales.  He knows Greener, Keiron Thomas and Johnny Evans.  Why is this relevant?  Because Sam is the older brother of new Bulls midfielder Tommy O’Sullivan.

Thomas Paul O’Sullivan left Cardinal Newman Comprehensive with a comprehensive range of qualifications. He amassed 11 GCSE’s, including 6 at Grade A.  Impressive considering that the young Welshman was already five years into his Cardiff City Academy programme and could have one career objective in his sights.  The Bluebirds signed the Mountain Ash youngster when he was 9 and, although there was a dalliance with the dark side in Swansea, he quickly returned to City.  His progress was smooth.  A year after leaving school, he signed his first professional contract. There was a chance to represent his country, with a call-up for the Welsh U17’s (he later played for more senior age groups).

Older brother Sam regularly commented his younger brother was a better footballer than himself though of course, family loyalty will be a factor.  Tommy had another early vocal supporter in the shape of Malky Mackay for whom a later scandal was to make all his judgements toxic.  Mackay was clear the attacking midfielder would become a City first teamer and tried to prove it by giving the youngster 70 minutes in a League Cup defeat at Northampton (August 2012).   O’Sullivan was also one of 11 second-string players turned out by Cardiff at Macclesfield in the FA Cup. The Non-League outfit beat them 2-1.  Although he didn’t know it then, Moss Rose was to be his final appearance. The Bluebirds were in an ultimately successful scrap for promotion to the Premier League followed by the inevitable relegation battle. Neither scenario was suitable for rookies.  In addition, Mackay was sacked.  His replacement quickly followed him out the door. And their caretaker stand-ins.  No-one had time for the youngsters. Only the here and now mattered.

Tommy continue to play regularly for Kevin Nicholson’s Development Squad (That’s Nicholson, the super trainer, not his Torbay namesake). The usual ersatz football, behind closed doors for plaudits not points.  He was playing and scoring for his country but not the club who paid his wages.  A former Wales Youth manager, Rob Page, came to his aid.  As the new Port Vale manager. Page recruited Tommy on loan.   The Welshman managed a few League One appearances but was largely a bench body.

In October 2015, Tommy O’Sullivan was named Young Welsh Player of the Year by the FA of Wales, an astonishing accolade previously won by Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale.  “My proudest moment as a player” gasped the recipient. The award winner was finally playing senior League football in Wales but for Newport County.  In two spells for the League Two club, Sam’s little bro. made 20 appearances for his old club while featuring regularly for the Wales Under 21 side.  He did find the net for the Exiles once and remained more prolific for his country.  Said Newport manager of his loanee “Tommy is an exciting player. He is a great creative midfielder and adds another dimension for us and is capable of creating chances.”  Sam found a way to mention his brother on the company website.  “Huge fitness enthusiasm” he penned before surely moving into hyperbole “trains several times a day…”

Despite all this positive noise, Tommy started the 2016-17 season back at Cardiff.  Over 3 years had elapsed since he’d last pulled on a City first-team shirt.  Younger men had passed him by.  There was no future playing ghost football. He needed an out to realise his dream, even if it meant moving away. Colchester United provided an exit route. After a brief trial period, the U’s paid Cardiff a undisclosed fee in January 2017 to sign their man on an 18-month contract.

For whatever reason, the move was unsuccessful with Tommy playing only 4 first team games in a year.  Feeling desperate, O’Sullivan accepted a loan move to struggling National League Torquay.  He’d never previously played in Non-League but the club were at least full time and had recently parted with Myrie-Williams.  Tommy played the first four games for the Gulls.  One Torquay supporter commented “he is knocked off the ball rather easily. He’s a technician rather than an athlete. I think he’d be better off in the upper echelons of the game.”  His opportunities became more sporadic as the Devon club desperately re-shuffled before being relegated.  But he’d made a positive impression and hoped that Torquay would re-sign him following Tommy’s inevitable release from Colchester.  The call never came, and Tommy was left in limbo, his last competitive action in early April 2018.  No doubt he endured a round of low-key and unsuccessful trials since.  There is an obvious question with all the links to Peter Beadle why Hereford’s Ex-Gaffer didn’t make him an offer.  Probably the Welshman didn’t want part-time?  At 23, that’s normally a one-way street.  But as October rolled in with no money and no offers…

Tommy O’Sullivan has a patchy football CV into which many things can be unfairly read.  Ultimately, many factors come into play, only one of which will be his ability. For Tommy, this is “last chance saloon” to become a serious ‘baller in the harsh football world where dreams are far more shattered than made.

By Simon Wright

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