Saturday 25 January 2020

Cusack standing tall with sights set on ending Tipp jinx

Cork goalkeeper Donal Og Cusack doesn't feel what he has written in his book will have repercussions for him on the field this season.
Cork goalkeeper Donal Og Cusack doesn't feel what he has written in his book will have repercussions for him on the field this season.
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Donal Og Cusack gets up from the table, conveys thanks to his gathered audience and shoots off into the next part of his day unblemished by any aspect of the previous 30 minutes of conversation.

His audience has probed for even the smallest hairline fracture of regret in his body but he has guarded his goalmouth impressively. Not an inch.

His controversial autobiography has been on the shelves for more than six months now and some 30,000 copies later, all sorts of people may have got themselves in a strop over it.

But Donal Og is not for yielding. There are no regrets and there is nothing to prove to anyone. Not for anything.

He's in Cork for a Guinness promotion of the opening Munster championship match with Tipperary in Pairc Ui Chaoimh and his mind won't allow him to wander beyond Sunday week.

What's done is done, what's said is said. His life has moved on, but hurling remains its spinal cord.

The postman on the east Cork beat where he lives deserved a hearty tip last Christmas and can look forward to more of the same later this year too. The mail still arrives, if not by the sack load it once did.

For the most part, it's positive and well meaning. The odd correspondence is extreme and over the top, but he has long since learned to deal with that.

"The overwhelming majority of people have been positive. I do get a great kick when someone comes up to me and says, 'Look, I really enjoyed reading your book'. You even meet some people that say, 'I don't agree with you on everything but I still enjoyed the book', and I do get a kick out of that. Very much so," he said.

"Of course you're always going to get some negative correspondence, people telling me how you're going to die and stuff like that. But that's only a minor thing to be honest. It doesn't really bother me."

Being the first Irish sportsman to publicly reveal he is gay has had its impact, the kind of impact he imagined it would have when he opted to reveal it in an autobiography while he was still an inter-county player.

"I thought by writing a book that I would be able to set out my position on things and from my personal life as well. I think that would have been a contributing factor," he said.

"I would have felt that it would have a much greater impact on people who needed it if I did it while I was playing rather than waiting until I was gone.

"A lot of people have made contact with me since that are in the same situation and I'd like to think that that has had a positive influence on those guys and I'd like to think that, even though I'm not going to go down the road of Gareth Thomas."

Two months ago the former Wales rugby captain came to Leeside to meet him as part of a BBC documentary. Since revealing himself that he was gay in the aftermath of 'Come What May', Thomas has taken on the role of ambassador in tackling homophobia in sport.


"He's gone down the road of being an ambassador but I don't think that's my journey," he says. "I kept in contact with him since and, fair play to him, he deserves great credit for what he's doing and that he's going down that route and is prepared to go down that route. But that's not the path I want."

Life has mellowed for him considerably. The attrition in the Cork dressing- room has abated, the boardroom of the GPA no longer bristles with ideas on how best to agitate.

Last Monday week he was in Dublin for a meeting of the executive and afterwards the Offaly legend Brian Whelahan remarked to him how it was nice to be engaging in discussion that didn't centre on conflict.

"We'd have executive meetings and 90pc of it would be 'how are we going to agitate for this or lobby for that?' Our last meeting 90pc of the meeting was spent talking about proper player welfare issues and the services that we are providing for players," he said. "How that will react on my own role, it will just play out and see how it goes. It is great to be sitting around a table with other GAA players working on the type of services we could provide for other players rather than having these arguments that we have had over the years.

"But still, I would have understood right through it that we needed to have those arguments and that certain players had to put their heads above the parapet. Those players would have known that it wasn't going to make them popular in order to get us to the stage that we have now got to."

The recent furore over comments made by his friend and Cork colleague Sean Og O hAilpin on payments to GAA players in an Irish language newspaper dragged up all the old arguments to level against them, but Cusack saw straight through them.

"He said what he said for a very long time -- that of course he wanted to be paid, but he understands that the way things are it's just not feasible," he says.

"That was printed in an Irish newspaper, it gets translated and then it becomes a big story. The people who are making a story out of that were one of two types of people.

"One are people who maybe don't like Sean Og or don't like the Gaelic Players Association and were just looking for a stick to try to beat us with again.

"Secondly, people who are trying to fill column inches. The vast majority of journalists would have known that it was a non-story."

But Sunday week will bring him back into contact with a nemesis or two from the last few seasons.

Tipperary have beaten them in three consecutive championship games and the referee Barry Kelly, who takes charge of the game, isn't exactly on his Christmas card list as his autobiography revealed.

However, what's done is done and there won't be any shuffling of the pack to deal the right cards ahead of Munster's first big hurling tilt. The current sequence of losses doesn't particularly exercise him in any way.

"Nobody likes to lose. We don't like the fact that we've been beaten by Tipperary. In my brain I don't think, and from what I know of the other players too, I don't know does that really matter when it comes to Sunday week," he said.

"Do those guys when they go out on the field, or when I go out on the field, and I'm trying to concentrate on what's in front of me say, 'Yeah, well these guys are after beating us three times in a row'. Do you think there's a logic in that?

"Maybe it would be a better story if I said, 'Yeah we want to', but it's just not there. It's not in my head. I don't have the capacity anyway. But maybe I just have limited capacity!"

Nor has he ever felt the need to 'justify' the action of the last two winters with a championship success in Munster or beyond.

"I can really only talk for myself there but in my head we did those things because we felt they were the right things to do but that's gone.

Sunday week is such an important game for everybody involved, that is all that's in your mind."

Irish Independent

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