Sport Hurling

Monday 29 May 2017

Cusack's last stand undone by 'Stepford Wives'

David Kelly

David Kelly

As the dwindling remains of the sun-splattered, awe-struck 41,000 or so Gaels applaud the latest chapter of Kilkenny's unsurpassable omnipotence, one of the umpires at the railway end clutches Donal Og Cusack by the elbow.

His conversation is summary but intense. Yet it is difficult to glean from either man's body language what import it may have. The maturing Richie Power arrives to shake hands, and does so with a similar economy to that which saw him haul 1-8 from the day.

When he moves off, the pair are still engaged in deep conversation. Then they march their separate ways, the Corkman stolidly striding, head down, towards the tunnel, seeking no back-slap nor compensatory handshake.

And not finding it either. For what more can be said? Kilkenny's excellence is enough to mute most conversations.

Cusack's recently expressed admiration for the greatest hurling ensemble ever witnessed in this country was pointedly public albeit too belated for many.

That Kilkenny's feathers were ruffled once too many had been indicated late last week when one of the sport's most revered diplomats and a contemporary president of the GAA issued stunning ripostes, unusual both in their own belated timing, not to mention their unbecoming ferocity.

JIBE

Eddie Keher and Nickey Brennan, were seemingly only motivated to respond to Cusack's Stepford Wives jibe upon the occasion of the sides' first meaningful engagement since the publication of the sport's most explosive tomes.

Cusack's previous attempts to leaven his thinly concealed disdain for the perceived difference of the Kilkenny hurlers were as pitifully contrived as his colleagues' hapless efforts to stem yesterday's stunning tide of hurling supremacy.

Cusack's observations on the difference between the teams has been mostly metaphysical. Yesterday, the difference was physical. Kilkenny's genetic hurling superiority brooked no argument.

For all their sundering of supposed county board anachronisms and sniffy derision of those who demurred from unionism, yesterday's defeat could set Cork back several years.

Their underage system is lamentably cultivated. Yesterday, their tactics were ill-conceived or, in the mysterious disappearance of the high ball -- Aisake O hAilpin got only two balls while Michael Cussen was benched -- utterly ignored. The team of the ages won every battle.

Cusack, so often a talisman of this team in their misty-eyed past and lately during the occasional faint kicks from slowly expiring legs, could only offer weak resistance to the immutable laws of sporting superiority.

Kilkenny, at once the greatest sporting team this country has ever seen and its most anonymous, won every filthy ball on the floor in the opening stages, when the element of contest was at its most convincing; soon enough, Cork's ageing and tiring limbs were unable to stem the irrepressible flow.

On the Hill, the searing sun could not blind eyes to the awesome, spectral force being unfurled once more before us. Others were not fortunate enough to last the scorching pace.

A handful of young Kilkenny folk were either refused admittance or were politely escorted from the premises as they succumbed weakly to accelerated consumption of alcohol.

Few Cork folk had much drink taken; their thirst to forget would increase exponentially as the evening wore on.

Cusack's centrality in the build-up to the match awakened nervous anticipation that some of the unseemly megaphone diplomacy witnessed in Thurles last year might be resurrected.

Save for a few idiotic chants of "Q****" and "F****t" from a few young bucks still grappling with the full extent of the English language, the element of homophobia was, fittingly, rendered redundant by the shock and awe of Kilkenny's performance.

Some wisecracks emitted jibes concerning his stilted opinion of his rivals: "Come on the Stepford Wives!" Staccato chants of an unruly nature were attempted rarely, then swiftly drowned in the sea of acclamation for the Cats.

Cusack's stand was a lonesome vigil. Goals flew past him with regularity and, from the vast distance of 100 yards or more, James Ryall's airborne delivery seems to elude him and Aidan Fogarty smacks home the second.

His occasional saves are overshadowed. The over-exalted puck-out strategy also betrays the Cork efforts. Attempts to locate Cian McCarthy are futile; short deliveries are subsumed by the suffocating breaths of Kilkenny hurlers, hell-bent on securing their place in the annals of the game.

RELENTLESS

Even Kilkenny fans are struggling to match their heroes' relentless drive, one man saying to another with tired determination that "we'll have to leave by quarter to five, this is too much".

That will be the ultimate insult for Cusack and his colleagues, that those from Keher to Cody, the folk on the Hill to old ladies in Dunnamaggin, will have felt pity, sympathy and a host of other words so decried by their opponents.

Before the match, imbibing outside a local watering hole, a Kilkenny fan is asked his opinion of the Cork team, then Cusack specifically.

"Listen," he offers through a haze of cigarette smoke. "I couldn't care less whether he's gay, straight or confused." Others dislike him intensely, regardless of homosexuality. Some, purely because he used to swap sliotars.

And what of this morning? After this era-ending result, the GAA world is diffident to Cusack's feelings. And that will wound him just as much.

The bravery of his unfurling into a not often sympathetic Irish society -- his personal torment will remain ineluctably embedded into his legend for generations to come.

As the GAA prepares to fence Hill 16 patrons in, Cusack's lowering of the barriers remains a brave and selfless act.

Yesterday, thankfully, was not about that. For Cusack, the rawness would have been almost as acute for hurling is just as inextricably linked to his persona.

Almost entirely unnoticed, Cork won the second half yesterday by a solitary point. It almost reflected the pyrrhic nature of Cusack's ill-advised hostility, directed towards the Leinster kingpins over the last decade.

As they spoke, Cusack signed a sliotar for the umpire and trudged from the field. It was a singularly private moment on a day of such public humiliation. The pain of defeat hurting as much as any words could ever do.

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