Monday 11 November 2019

'Just put on a pair of shorts and go out and play . . .'

Donal Óg Cusack. Photo: Ray McManus / Sportsfile
Donal Óg Cusack. Photo: Ray McManus / Sportsfile

There was no great love for Cork in our dressing room back then, to put it mildly. To us, they were full of shit. Now, the county board in Kilkenny was a dream to work with and, by and large, we got everything we wanted. But we didn't seek to have our towels folded and waiting for us when we came in from training and that kind of nonsense. We didn't insist on trimmings that are incidental to winning hurling matches.

Donal Óg Cusack and his special contact lenses and glove for catching the ball was more of it. He once said how he went out on his bike one Christmas Day to try and get an edge on the hurlers all over Ireland that were full up with turkey.

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What edge was he getting going out for a cycle? Maybe the lads that were at home enjoying themselves with their families were the ones that were really getting the edge. They were unwinding at Christmas time and guarding against being mentally stale later in the year. You had Seán Óg Ó hAilpín going out for a run the morning after they won an All-Ireland. Grand, he doesn't take a drink but, Jesus, take a break, will you?

Someone told me how they even had the design of their shorts changed at one stage with 'Corcaíoch', Irish for 'Corkman', woven into them. Why would something like that even come into your head? Just put on a pair of shorts and go out and play the game, for God's sake.

We turned them over in the 2006 All-Ireland final and that was the end of them. They really hit their peak in 2005 and were on a downward spiral after that. They only had maybe 17 players that were quality inter-county hurlers and many of them had been on the go for a long time at that stage. A lot of things kicked off in Cork after 2006 but I don't think it stopped them winning further All-Irelands; they just weren't good enough anymore. We beat them comfortably in the 2008 semi-final and even more so at the same stage two years later.

In between there was that league game in Nowlan Park. When the strike had finished up a few weeks before it, a comment came out of their camp that if it hadn't been for all the strife, it would be them going for four-in-a-row that year instead of us. Thinking it is one thing, but to have the arrogance to come out and say it was another. You just don't get comments like that coming out of Kilkenny. That played into our hands.

We didn't go out with the attitude to give them a good hiding that day, but there was a determination that they absolutely couldn't come up and beat us in Nowlan Park after all that had gone on. They were the antithesis of what we were about.

You could feel it in the build-up to the game around Kilkenny; it was like what you'd experience before a big championship match. Our people were leaving us in no doubt as to what was expected of us. They were with us throughout the game too. We never looked at the scoreboard and neither did they.

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When the fourth goal went in, they greeted it like it was the winner. We were so focused on beating them that we just kept going and going and going. We had a standing ovation at half-time and again at the end, by which time we had 27 points to spare.

It was a surreal afternoon, all told, but a very satisfying one.

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