'Cork will hold no fears for Donal Óg Cusack' - Clare joint-manager Donal Moloney
Clare joint-boss Moloney backs ex-Cork hero to cope with sentimental occasion
Clare joint-manager Donal Moloney insists that facing off against his native county in a Munster senior hurling final won't faze coach Donal Óg Cusack.
The decorated former goalkeeper is a key component of Clare's backroom staff - and is now preparing to face Cork as a member of a rival camp for the first time in championship fare.
Cusack was brought on board as coach by then-manager Davy Fitzgerald last year - and he's a man Moloney knows well, as both men are employed by DePuy Synthes (Johnson & Johnson) in Cork.
Moloney says: "He has brought a huge amount to Clare.
"It was great foresight on Davy's behalf to bring him in last year because he brings focus on skill development that I think is really important, a critical part of the game.
"He really values that because the teams he was part of were renowned for their skill and their touch. He sees that as the difference between a team going up a level."
When Fitzgerald left for Wexford, Cusack's stock in Clare remained high enough to ensure that he would remain on to provide continuity during the managerial transition.
And Moloney explained: "We had heard that a lot of what Donal Óg did last year was very well received in terms of the management and the players.
"We would have known that. We would have seen an improvement in the U-21 players in terms of their skill-set so from that perspective, having someone like that, with the experience of working last year, was really, really important."
While Cusack is backed to handle the sentimental element of a Thurles decider, the occasion won't hold too many fears for Moloney and side-kick Gerry O'Connor either.
In 2010, they were in charge when the Clare minors scooped provincial honours there, for the first time in 21 years.
Paul Flanagan captained that team and he was skipper again in 2013, when the Banner County beat Tipperary by four points at Semple Stadium to land the Bord Gáis Energy U-21 title.
Four years on, Moloney and O'Connor have the chance to complete the set at the 'Field of Legends'.
It's the county's big chance to end a famine dating back to 1998, the day when all hell broke loose at the throw-in, as Colin Lynch let fly on Waterford pair Peter Queally and Tony Browne and ended up with a lengthy and controversial ban.
It has been a while since Clare were kings of Munster but Moloney is confident of bridging the gap.
To win big titles at elite level, however, Moloney acknowledges that top-quality players are required.
The challenge at underage level in Clare, then, is to consistently produce individuals in that bracket, to find "X-factor talent", as Moloney calls it.
He's asked straight up if Clare have X-factor players - and his response is immediate.
"Yes, absolutely. They have had it since their underage days, they showed it in 2013. People probably give out about their championship record over the last few years but history will show that Davy won the National League and the All-Ireland.
"There aren't too many other counties in those three or four seasons that have won as many titles, Kilkenny obviously, but that is a pretty decent record. We have game-winners who contributed to that."
Many of the current Clare senior crop soldiered under Moloney and O'Connor when the pair masterminded three successive All-Ireland U-21 crowns from 2012-2014.
Moloney nods: "Yes, 70 or 80pc of them would have been there along the journey with us but this is a different ball game, a different challenge.
"The focus and preparation is the same. They have always done us proud, have always served us very well and whatever occasion was thrown at them, they coped extremely well.
"And I have no doubt that will be the case again."
The Munster championship has always been special for Moloney, right back to the late 1970s, when Clare were denied in successive finals.
He recalls: "That was a magical time because Clare really hadn't done a lot for a period before that.
"The following in the county at the time was incredible and the hope going to the Munster final at the time, especially the second one (1978), when everything looked to be right, and we got overturned.
"Unfortunately, they came up against a Cork team who were probably the best in the country at the time, they were going for three in a row."
Moloney smiles: "I remember struggling to see the game. There was no stand in Thurles at the time, other than the Old Stand.
"I was standing on my toes, trying to get hoisted onto people's shoulders to try and see the actual match. That was my memory of it."
Time now for some fresh memories.
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