Wednesday 18 October 2017

Dónal óg Cusack reveals history of dirty tricks involving sliotars

Dónal Óg Cusack was no stranger to playing tricks with the sliotars in his day. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Dónal Óg Cusack was no stranger to playing tricks with the sliotars in his day. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Don't ask Dónal óg Cusack to get into Sliotar-gate. As a Cork man who is part of the Clare backroom team, he finds himself in an awkward position on that one.

The story is parked, he says, and he's not about to breathe new life into it.

"Donal and Gerry have covered that off, I'm not going to go there," Cusack states.

So he won't talk specifics of that case but there mightn't be a better man around to discuss the issue in a more general sense.

Cusack can tell stories about changing sliotars from right throughout his career. He and his Cork team went to extraordinary lengths to make sure the ball in play was the one that suited them the most.

He stresses that they were far from pioneers in that regard. Cusack has heard similar stories from yesteryear but his own memories go back as far to the All-Ireland minor final of 1995.

Croke Park had sent down balls they wanted used but they were different to what Cork had been training with. Cusack wasn't happy.

"There was a bag of balls that were sent down to Cork that we had to use and I think they were called Donnelly or something like that.

"I remember thinking - 'My All-Ireland final, the rims on these are huge'. So I go up to the game, I said, 'No way, I'm going using our own sliotars here'.

"I'm only 18. So, I went down into the goals and a steward from Croke Park was over and said you can't use your own balls. An elderly gentlemen, not very tall.

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"I remember about 15 minutes to go he actually took the balls off me. Whatever was going on. I actually gave them to him, because we were winning by so much … so I gave him the balls.

"I remember telling Jim Troy that night; and Jim says, 'I know that fella well' .. four years later I'm playing the All-Ireland final in 1999. Same thing, we're going to use our own balls. I go down into the net, and the bag has been turned inside out. So I know that I've put my sliotars (into this bag), had red and white on the outside - and now it's inside out.

"And I said to the umpires, 'What's been going on with my sliotars?' They said 'See that fella over there, he came over, he emptied all your balls.' He turned the bag inside out and put them back in. And I looked over, and it was the same man!

"I remember going over and I said to him, 'I ain't a minor now. Don't go near these balls for the rest of the game'."

Cusack reckons he has another hundred stories surrounding changing the game ball. It was important because various balls behaved in very different ways. He says too that he has sat in 'The Sunday Game' studio and watched teams pulling all sorts of stunts to get the ball they wanted in play.

He's not complaining. It's just a fact of life in hurling. And besides, he admits his Cork team had it down to a fine art. In the 2005 Munster final, Tipperary won a penalty. Cusack and Cork had a plan for such situations.

"We practised it, that if there was a penalty given, that what we'd do is that one of us would cause a diversion, give out to the referee, all get around 'bladdy, bladdy blah.' And then another ball, we'd roll it in. The important thing was that it shouldn't be me rolling it into play.

"The other ball would just be struck away. You'd be planning things like that but a thousand times it might never come off.

"But then in the Munster final, ball comes in, Sully (Diarmuid O'Sullivan) gives away a penalty and everyone kicks into gear. The ball that was in use is driven away and the next minute the other ball was rolled in.

I remember looking at Eoin Kelly that day and I says, 'That ball is not going to go as hard as you think it's going to go'. Eoin has said it himself since, that even when he picked it up he just sensed that there was something not right with that ball. But that's the game, that's one instance."

The tricks, however, didn't always come off.

"In the mid 2000s that game of cat and mouse was going on. I remember Paul Codd, we were playing Wexford in an All-Ireland semi-final, and I'd say he nearly drove it (the ball) out over Croke Park. He picked it up, I think it was Paul Codd, and I'm thinking, 'Fair play to you, you are on the ball'.

"Because he picked up the ball and he knew. It actually had Wexford written on it. He knew like."

Change is on the horizon. Croke Park has long acknowledged that a standardised sliotar is required and it is finally set to come into play from next year. In theory, it should end all the tricks.

"If you went around club matches and got ten balls and got the same man striking them. He'd strike them different distances, you'd have balls with big rims and you'd see them wavering in the air because of the shape of the rims.

"I'd fully support standardising the ball because everyone is on the one playing field."

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