Cusack hopes Cork will be the last men standing
Goalkeeper admits he will have conflicting emotions on Sunday week
Offaly hurling manager Ollie Baker. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO
He still embodies so much of the heart and soul of Cork hurling that it seems strange to be asking Dónal Óg Cusack about their prospects in an All-Ireland final, without him being the last man standing – and stranger still to be asking him about the prospects of managing a team from outside the county.
But with Cusack what you see is still exactly what you get, the honesty he displayed on the field still as intact off of it, and as strange as it will be for him to be sitting in Croke Park on Sunday week, when Cork face Clare for All-Ireland glory, he accepts it as one of those perfectly conflicting emotions of life.
“A person said to me the other day, how do you feel with people coming up to you, saying, ‘isn’t it great Cork are in the All-Ireland final, you must feel something?’” he says.
“Of course you feel something. I imagine it’s like if the love of your life threw you out, or kicked you out. And a while later you heard they were getting married. And people came up to you saying, ‘isn’t it great they’re getting married?’ Of course it’s great. I love that person. And I love this game. But I’d still love to be in that relationship. That’s as best as I can describe it now.”
Not that Cusack is looking for any sympathy, either. “The other point I’d make is that there are loads of other people who’ve been in that same boat. The person I think of, who must have gone through hard times last year, is Donegal’s Kevin Cassidy. Last year, when I was watching Donegal, he often popped into my head, especially the way it finished. But sport is funny like that. You need to take it on the chin and learn what you can from it.
‘Get on with it ’
“There’s other people around Cork that I know, and that I’m friendly with, who are in not too different a boat to myself. This is what life is like. You just need to get on with it. These next couple of weeks, as much as possible, you need to enjoy.
“If you played for Cork, you’re a Cork man, on Sunday week, enjoying the occasion. That’s not saying it is all roses. Of course everybody wants to be out there.”
If there’s anything strange about the All-Ireland final line-up it’s that it defies almost all early-season predictions, although now, says Cusack, it makes perfect sense too.
“Look at the odds at the outset of the year. Everybody was talking about Kilkenny, Tipperary and Galway. But both Cork and Clare are two thoroughly modern teams, if you like, and have come along at just the right time, because a different style has emerged this summer, in the way that both Cork and Clare are playing.”
Cork’s current goalkeeper Anthony Nash, despite some predictions, has slotted perfectly into Cusack’s role, despite spending countless years as his understudy.
“The biggest thing about goalkeeping is that you are comfortable in your environment,” says Cusack, “and he (Nash) has grown into the thing. There was no question over the talent he had. There was no question over his reflexes, or his shot stopping ability.
“But he has grown into the thing. For goalkeepers, for me in my own career, that is so important, to feel comfortable, as to how well you could execute the skills.
“And he is after growing in there, and looks absolutely comfortable in the position.”
As for Clare’s progress to the final, Cusack sees nothing whatsoever strange about the fact one of his old rivals, former Clare goalkeeper Davy Fitzgerald, is now managing the county.
“Davy is definitely a character. He’s not perfect like everyone else but I really think he’s good for the game. But one thing Clare have really benefitted from this year is playing games. By losing the first round to Cork, they went on a path where they could get in, settle down and start working on their system again.
“I remember in 2004 when we were beaten in the Munster final and we went through the back door and it just gives time for teams to settle. It’s cliché, but it’s fact. You learn a lot more in defeat than in victory.”
So to the prospects of Cusack ever taking over a county team starting with John Mullane’s suggestion that he’d be perfect for the vacant Waterford position.
“I’m a hurling man,” says Cusack. “I love the game. But I know as much as you do. I’m involved with Cloyne and I’m still playing with Cloyne. That’s it.”
If only for now.