Darragh McManus: Donal Og proved himself as doughty and tenacious in the field of civil rights as he was on GAA pitches
The same qualities that made Donal Og Cusack a great hurler for Cork also often made him a bete noire for opposition fans: courage, dedication, strength of mind, stubbornness.
And all were in evidence during Coming out of the Curve, tonight’s superb documentary on RTE 1, as Donal Og proved himself as doughty and tenacious a competitor in the field of civil rights, as he was on GAA pitches.
The film, directed with unshowy economy by Kim Bartley, made it plain that gay people have it relatively good in Ireland (we stress relatively – it ain’t perfect). Donal Og also travelled to Russia and the US, where things seem far worse, driven by an almost demented strain of conservatism.
Russian had literally made homosexuality illegal to some extent, through its insidious “non-traditional sexual relations” laws. These have been driven by an absolute cretin called Vitali Milonov, a St Petersburg politician visited by Donal Og.
“Homophobia is beautiful,” he declared. The Corkman somehow kept his cool and his manners. The viewer was left wishing Mr Milonov had received a bit of “Junior B hurling” style punishment.
Over in the United States, Donal Og met more stupidity and outright nastiness: a “family values” campaigner who was anti-gay but not anti-gay – or something – and a self-professed “ex-gay” who thought they should be “cured”, as if sexuality was a psychiatric disease of some sort: a mania, an obsession.
The irony, of course, is that gay people themselves aren’t half as obsessed with it as homophobes. Donal Og made this point several times: he defines himself as engineer, Corkman and hurler first off, only then gay; “I don’t think about being gay”; “I actually forget I’m gay,” and so on.
Which is the way it should be: just a part of the totality of a person, no big deal. Certainly no business of anyone else’s. And there is hope: when Donal Og came out, the most common reaction among GAA fans was “I don’t care who he fancies, I just don’t like the fecker because of the strikes/short-passing/being from Cork etc. etc.”
And more hope. The day after Leo Varadker became the first openly gay Cabinet Minister, we were meeting spirited teens from Dublin and indescribably sweet kids from Donegal. We also met isolated older men in rural Ireland, in scenes that were terrible moving and illustrated the desperate needlessness of prejudice.
Donal Og said to another American 'campaigner', “But why do you even care?” Why, indeed. “Old hatreds take a long time to die,” he also said, but you’d feel – and wish – that they are dying. Slowly but, yes, surely.
We met a rugby-playing Garda, a 17-year-old schoolkid who loves hurling, Cork football legend Valerie Mulcahy: all out, all getting on with life. Valerie said, hearteningly, that she’d never had a negative word about her sexuality, even from the opposition.
The film ended with a really sweet shot of Valerie and her partner holding hands, walking home from football training, just like a regular couple. Which, of course, is what they are.
Donal Og had earlier said, “I dream of a time in the future when it (sexuality) won’t even be an issue.” Amen to that, and this superlative documentary surely helped the cause. Dowtcha, Donal Og, boy.