Monday 20 November 2017

John Mullane: Donal Og deserved to retire on his own terms

JIMMY Barry-Murphy pulled the trigger far too soon when he axed John Gardiner and Donal Og Cusack from his Cork squad.

And Sean Og O hAilpin was good enough for at least another season. I played in a charity soccer match last month and O hAilpin was still the fittest man on the park.

And I firmly believe that he could have filled a problem position for Cork over the last few years – full-back. Don't get me wrong, the Rebels have made a fine start to the league and worked hard to get a deserved draw against Waterford yesterday, but I'm looking at the bigger picture.

Everyone knows that Cork have struggled for a long-term successor to Diarmuid O'Sullivan, and O hAilpin should have been tried there. They've gone with a few guys since 'the Rock' retired, but nobody has filled the void.

Stephen McDonnell was full-back in last year's championship but he's a more natural corner-back. Gardiner is still good enough to play for Cork, too, but it's the Cusack decision that has the hurling world talking.

I can't believe that Cusack, one of the men who saved Barry-Murphy's skin in 1999, has been let go.

Why, in the space of 10 months, has Donal Og gone from being one of the best goalkeepers in the country and captain of the Cork team to not being able to command a place on the panel?

Is there something we're not seeing here? Could this be a Chelsea-type situation? As it stands, JBM got rid of Gardiner and Cusack, and Denis Walsh tried to end Sean Og's career.

But Sean Og was lucky enough that he could come back and leave on his own terms. Gardiner and Cusack weren't so fortunate. During the week, Cusack came out and said that he's not bitter about the situation, but when I retired, I was delighted that I could go out on my terms.

It's one of the things I'll be forever grateful for. So many great players through the years lost that choice – it was taken away from them.

Cusack put everything into his rehab after suffering that terrible Achilles injury last year. He trained five or six nights a week and then he's told he's no longer part of the set-up.

Gardiner was told too that he was surplus to requirements but why, then, weren't Tom Kenny and Brian Murphy the same? They were also members of Cork's last All-Ireland-winning team in 2005, after all. There's something contradictory about the whole thing.

Anthony Nash is a fantastic goalkeeper, but if he happened to pick up an injury this year, wouldn't Donal Og be some man to call upon? I remember back to 'Semplegate' in 2007, when O hAilpin, O'Sullivan and Cusack were suspended for the Munster semi-final against Waterford. The one player we were most pleased about not being available was Cusack.

He was the creator for that Cork team, a quarterback of a goalkeeper. Nash made his debut that day and we put five goals past him.

The last passage of play from Donal Og in a Cork shirt tells you everything that you need to know about him.

He had crumpled in pain after sustaining that injury against Tipp but still managed to shovel the ball to safety. He wasn't thinking about himself – he was thinking about helping Cork win.

He'll go on to become a top coach, but there may have to be a clear-out of the Cork County Board for that to happen in his native county. We had two top coaches from Cork in Gerald McCarthy and Justin McCarthy and Cloyne isn't far away from Waterford.

If a vacancy arises in the next few years, Cusack is the man I'd go after.

Irish Independent

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