Thursday 22 August 2019

'Davy doesn't want 'yes men' around him' - Donal óg

Ahead of the Fenway Classic, Cork goalkeeping legend opens up on his Banner move and leaving the GPA

Donal Og Cusack admits he is a fan of the style of hurling played by Clare
Donal Og Cusack admits he is a fan of the style of hurling played by Clare

Conor McKeon

When Donal Óg Cusack checked his phone and saw a missed call from Davy Fitzgerald, he "had a sense" what it was about.

Why, he's not sure.

But Cusack told a friend of the failed correspondence and what he expected would happen when he rang back.

"I have a very good friend and I told him I had a missed call from him," Cusack recalls, having formally begun his duties as the unlikeliest of deputies when he met the Clare panel for the first time last Friday evening.

"And I actually said to him 'Davy Fitz was looking for me and I have a feeling he's going to ask me to get involved with Clare.'

"So, we sat down a couple of times. We spoke at length on a number of occasions.

"We spoke on the phone and we met face to face. We went through it all."

Many playing peers - even those in counties as fiercely opposed as Clare and Cork were in their era and as palpably driven as Cusack and Fitzgerald were during that time - cultivate natural off-field friendships, despite their competitive qualities.

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Cusack and Fitzgerald, famously, didn't.

"I'm looking forward to that," he says of the interaction with his former rival, a goldmine of outside fascination.

"Davy doesn't want 'Yes Men' around him.

"I know we've got one definite thing in common between the two of us: we both love the game."

"I've been on record as saying I was a fan of how they (Clare) played the game.

"Style is personal, so everyone has their own tastes in terms of preferences on how the game should be played.

"But I would be a fan of that group and how they played the game in the last couple of years."

Cusack's move into coaching brought the end of his club playing career with Cloyne, his work with RTÉ as an analyst for The Sunday Game and the conclusion of his executive role with the Gaelic Players Association (GPA).

He will formally step down from the GPA next weekend, with his final tour of duty coming in Boston where Dublin and a managerless Galway play in the AIG Fenway Hurling Classic during the early hours of tomorrow morning Irish time.

The 11-a-side game has been a pet project for Cusack, amongst others, in an attempt to package hurling for an international audience.

The unique clash, in the iconic home of the Boston Red Sox, Fenway Park, will be televised live on TG4 (1.15am) and American Sports Network, NESN.

"The obstacle of playing our games overseas has been about the size of our pitches. So a few of us got together and said we'd try and do something about it," he recalls.

"For many years, Irish people have been delighted to show off artists, poets, musicians….and we would believe that we have as fine an art in the game of hurling."

While Fitzgerald's invitation gave Cusack a natural finishing date to his work with the GPA, he says now: "I've been talking about it (leaving) for a good 18 months."

In his time, the GPA went from agitators to being formally recognised and in turn, funded by the GAA, having frequently crossed swords, and publicly, with Croke Park.

"There were certain things we had to do even though you knew what you were doing…sometimes you just needed to be controversial," he points out.

"But I would imagine there are players coming into an inter-county dressing-room now who don't have that comprehension and would probably laugh if they heard some of the things that went on in trying to get the players' group formally recognised."

A replacement chair has yet to be elected but Cusack stresses: "I'm hoping that the new man that will come in…I'm hoping he'll have different views, different ideas…I'm hoping that he will bring different energy to the thing.

"I look forward to me sitting down reading the newspaper and absolutely disagreeing with the direction he's taking the Association in."

Cusack was also an entertaining and often enlightening pundit on The Sunday Game for the past two seasons.

"The thing I learned about that,' he outlines, "is that the vast majority of people working from a hurling side in there are actually fans of the game.

"They love the game. They love hurling.

"And they would have given me great freedom.

"I have a strong belief that there is beauty in the detail," Cusack adds.

"I also have a strong belief that the people who are at home watching sport have a deeper appreciation than sometimes they're given credit for."

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