Saturday 16 December 2017

'I just turned to Seán Óg and said I’m not playing anymore' - Aisake Ó hAilpín reveals why he left Cork hurling

11 July 2010; Aisake Ó hAilpín celebrates scoring Cork's first goal. Munster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Final, Cork v Waterford, Semple Stadium, Thurles, Co. Tipperary. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
11 July 2010; Aisake Ó hAilpín celebrates scoring Cork's first goal. Munster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Final, Cork v Waterford, Semple Stadium, Thurles, Co. Tipperary. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE sportsdesk

Former Cork hurler Aisake Ó hAilpín has said that being pulled from Cork's 2010 All-Ireland semi-final with Kilkenny was the main reason he decided to call time on his intercounty hurling career with the Rebels.

Ó hAilpín was projected to be one of Cork hurling's great prospects when he scored 2-1 in a Championship qualifier against Offaly in his debut intercounty season in 2009, before going on to establish himself as a force in the Cork full-forward line with a dominant display against Tipperary in the 2010 Munster quarter-final.

Cork would breeze past Limerick in the semi-final, before being derailed by Waterford in a Munster final replay a month later, and while the Rebel county made light work of Antrim in the All-Ireland quarter-final, they were completely outmatched by defending All-Ireland champions Kilkenny in the semi-finals.

Trailing the Cats by 13 points at half-time, Ó hAilpín was pulled by manager Denis Walsh at the break but the news of his substitution was delivered by one of the Cork selectors, and not Walsh himself.

The manner of the substitution irked Ó hAilpín, so much so that he decided to quit there and then, with the behaviour of his teammates on the bus back to Cork afterwards only reinforcing his belief that he had made the right decision.

"I was very confident going into that game," Ó hAilpín told Vincent Hogan in Saturday's Irish Independent.

"I remember walking around in the parade thinking ‘Just throw in the ball, let’s get this going...’

“But the game just went away from us so quickly. It was over at half-time, a total anti-climax. And then I got taken off, which made it worse. Because I honestly thought I’d held my own in there.

“I mean I won a free, hand-passed off another ball. They were the only two that came in to me in the whole half. I was winning my own ball, and not many Cork fellas won their own ball that day.

“Then I went in at half-time and it wasn’t even the coach who told me I was coming off. It was one of the selectors. That tells me I don’t really know who was calling the shots that day. It was as if the coach was half-afraid to tell me I was being taken off.

“So I just turned to Seán Óg and went “Best of luck, I’m not playing anymore...’

“‘What do you mean?’

“‘They’re taking me off...’

“Himself and John Gardiner didn’t know what to say. I mean we obviously weren’t going to rescue the game with points. Not against Kilkenny. Sorry man, you score 20 points against them, they’ll score 24. You’re just playing Russian Roulette with them and it’s only a matter of time before you get the bullet.

“They had Noel Hickey playing full-back, a strong defender. But I was much taller than him and I was confident. Just put a few high balls in on top of me and I’d be able to lay it off to the lads, or bury one myself. But anyway, nobody ever explained to me after why they took me off...”

Kilkenny won the match 3-22 to 0-19 in the end, with the journey home to Cork only serving to compound Aisake’s frustration.

“I’ll never forget getting the bus back and some of the younger lads laughing and joking,” he recalls. “And I’m sitting there, thinking ‘F**ing hell, we just got embarrassed out there...’ It nearly drove me crazy looking at them.

“I didn’t say anything, but in my head was ‘f**k this, I’m never going to let this happen again. Getting taken off. Losing by that much. No, never again’.

“I couldn’t get that bus journey out of my head either. These lads laughing and joking. All ‘where are we going tonight?’ Even drinking on the bus. Like, how can you have a drink on the bus after getting pumped like that? I didn’t like that at all. And I could see that Seán Óg and Donal Óg didn’t like it either. Oh f**k, I could see it in Donal Óg’s face!

“They’d won All-Irelands, Gardiner the same. These young fellas had won nothing and now you’re looking at the way they’re acting after a massive loss. It would take the experienced lads weeks to get over it. These lads were over it once they got on the bus and had their first beer.”

Aisake would return to Melbourne afterwards where he remains today with his brother Setanta. The two brothers never got the opportunity to play in the AFL together, but they still play Aussie Rules at weekends with Tooradin-Dalmore in the South East Football League.

The full interview with Aisake and Hogan can be read in Saturday's Irish Independent.

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