Donal Og relishing Kilkenny challenge
Donal Og Cusack has described next week's first All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny as "the biggest game Cork have played in a very long time".
As Cork continue to rebuild after their Munster final replay defeat to Waterford, Kilkenny have glided to within two games of hurling immortality and Cusack accepts that they are now hurling at a different level to any other team.
"Sunday week is D-Day. It's a big day and everything stops -- I don't know can you get yourself any more ready than that, no matter who you're playing," he said.
Despite mischievously labelling their great rivals "the Stepford Wives" for their propriety in his autobiography last year, Cusack's respect for Kilkenny as hurlers has grown deeper.
"You have to give Kilkenny credit -- they have taken the game to a new level. They have become comfortable at playing the game at such an intensity that other teams can't match it," he said.
"We have seen in games against Kilkenny that teams are able to live with them for 20 or 25 minutes because there's a certain amount of adrenalin there -- but they aren't able to go toe-to-toe with them for 70 minutes. They have become very comfortable playing at that intensity."
Cusack admitted that losing to Waterford in the replay was the biggest disappointment for the Cork team for many years. Getting to Croke Park eight days later was, he says, a blessing in disguise.
"It was a long time since I have been in a group that was as disappointed as that," he said.
"We went into the replay and it was a typical Cork-Waterford game -- it goes to extra-time, we lose a number of players to injury, it's a battle. You don't want to lose it because you've invested so much into it.
"In a way, and a lot of people might have said you're playing your third game in three weeks, it might have been no harm we were in Croke Park.
"We had a training session on the way up, spent time over the weekend talking about what happened. We got out on the pitch and got that winning feeling after the game, so hopefully it can be a blessing in disguise."