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11 questions for Cork hurling legend Donal Óg Cusack

The former Rebels goalkeeper on Anthony Nash, Davy Fitzgerald and watching on in Croke Park on Sunday week.

Donal Og Cusack at the launch of the One Direct Kilmacud Crokes All Ireland Hurling Sevens yesterday.
Donal Og Cusack at the launch of the One Direct Kilmacud Crokes All Ireland Hurling Sevens yesterday.
Image: INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan

IT’S BEEN A hurling summer that’s caught the imagination and it reaches its conclusion on Sunday week in Croke Park.

Cork and Clare battle it out to be crowned this year’s All-Ireland senior hurling champions.

Donal Óg Cusack is well placed to offers his views on the game. We caught up with him yesterday.

1. Cork in the All-Ireland senior hurling final. Did you expect that at the start of 2013?

“You probably just needed to look at the odds at the outset of the year. Everybody was talking about Kilkenny, Tipperary and Galway.

“Both teams (Cork and Clare) are two thoroughly modern teams. Two iconic managers in Davy (Fitzgerald) and Jimmy (Barry-Murphy).

“It’s no disrespect to Kilkenny, because while Kilkenny were associated with physicality and intensity, they’re a hugely skilful team. But a different style has emerged this summer in the way that both Cork and Clare are playing.

“I think a point that’s worth making as well, I know referees have made some high-profile mistakes during the summer but I think the way the game has been refereed this year has contributed towards that.”

2. You’ve spoken a lot about the use of the free hand in tackling in hurling. Has that issue been addressed this summer?

“I think the referees are definitely clamping down on that this year. I have been speaking about the spare hand for a couple of years.

“Even from talking from a coaching point of view, being actually taken in the realm of showing players how to use the spare hand in a negative way. That was just the territory we were living in. And that definitely wasn’t the prettiest part of the game.

“Referees have made mistakes but I don’t think it should be forgotten that the way they referee has contributed towards some of the great games we have seen throughout the summer.”

3. Anthony Nash is in pole position for a second successive Allstar. Was he always this good or has his progress accelerated?

“The biggest thing I think about goalkeeping is that you are comfortable in your environment. There was no question over the talent he had. He is after growing there and looks absolutely comfortable in the position.

“Goalkeeping is such a pressurised position. You saw that in the semi-final with Dublin, a small mistake can cost you big time. You really need to be in a position where you’re comfortable. And he’s definitely at that level.”

4. Does you not being on the panel help him to shine?

“I can understand that argument, absolutely. But it’s history now, all of that is history. It’s very much his jersey now and fair play to him.”

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Cork goalkeeper Anthony Nash takes to the field against Dublin
Pic: INPHO/James Crombie

5. Talking about the changing face of hurling are you surprised to see smaller players like Padraic Collins and Daniel Kearney thriving now?

“Hurling has always had characters of that stature that have been great for the game. Lads I played with Joe Deane and Ben O’Connor weren’t the biggest men. Jamesie O’Connor from Clare is another perfect example.

“I do think that Jimmy and Davy have brought their teams along just at the right time and key to that is the way the referees are refereeing the game.

“It’s great the game should be for all shapes and sizes. It’s great to see Danny and Podge Collins express themselves.”

6. Did you always think Patrick Horgan could become the figurehead of Cork’s attack that he now is?

“Again, he’s like Anthony Nash. There was no questioning his talent and his ability. He’s one of those guys, he lives for the game. He is constantly hurling, constantly training.

“If anything people were trying to get him off the field with the amount of time he was spending on it. This year he is after growing into his role.

“Free taking is a huge part and will be a huge part in the final. If you’re missing frees it puts doubt into teams and doesn’t put them in a good frame of mind.”

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Cork’s Patrick Horgan celebrates after scoring a goal
Pic: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

7. Where has Clare’s improvement come from this year since the defeat to Cork?

“You could try and put your finger on things like that but it’s like predictions. It’s almost childish trying to do it. One thing Clare have benefited on is that they have been 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. They have had a couple of tests. If you look at the Wexford game.

“Playing games can help. I remember in 2004 when we were beaten in the Munster final and we went through the back door. You learn a lot more in defeat in victory.”

8. Do you expect more sweepers in the game given Clare’s success with it?

“It’s like when Clare were rumoured to be running up the hills in Crusheen, which supposedly was never happening, every team thought that that was going to be the way. I think it’s great to see the game evolving.

“I know that people talk about systems when they came in first to football and people were talking extremely negatively about them. That’s the product of people thinking about the game and trying to come up with ways of winning. I like the departure of that.

“If any coaches are looking at games, they’re going to try and introduce sweepers. You see the way Clare are playing their system but you even go back a couple of years ago to the All-Ireland semi-final, Dublin versus Tipperary, Dublin played a sweeper that day.

“Look at the way Kilkenny defended over the last number of years, Kilkenny were bringing more men back into defence than any other team I’d seen. What you see now is just an evolution of that again and long may it continue.”

9. What do you think Davy Fitz brings as a manager?

“The best way I can describe Davy is that I played against him as a goalkeeper. He was full of fire and brimstone and he’d sprint out onto the field and he’d hit the crossbar . But Davy could still stand inside in goal with the sun in his eyes and catch a ball.

“So you can’t go from that, the rate of knots, without having an ability to control yourself. I think one of the biggest challenges that hurling has is it needs characters

“Davy is definitely a character. He’s good for hurling and he’s good for the GAA. He’s not perfect, he’s like everybody else.”

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Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald after their win over Limerick.
INPHO/Ryan Byrne

10. How tough a time is this for your clubmate Paudie O’Sullivan, being out for Cork through injury?

“It’s a tough time for him. It’s a shame for him as he’s such a talented player. It’s not the first major injury he’s had, he did a cruciate a few years ago.

“But if you can come over these things, he’s still young enough and he’s strong enough to come back. You just have to deal with it.”

11. Have you thought about the emotional conflict you’ll have Sunday week watching on?

“There’s loads of other people who’ve been in that same boat. The person I think of who must have went through hard times last year is Donegal’s Kevin Cassidy.

“But sport is funny like that. You need to take it on the chin and learn what you can from it. There’s other people around Cork that I know who are in not too different a boat to myself.

“This is what life is like, you just need to get on with it. If you played for Cork, you’re a Cork man on Sunday week enjoying the occasion.

“That’s not saying it’s all roses. Of course everybody wants to be out there. A person said to me the other day how do you feel people coming up to you saying isn’t it great Cork are in the All Ireland final, you must feel something.

“The closest analogy that I can give to you, and this is coming from my heart now, 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, I love that game. But I’d still love to be in that relationship. That’s as best as I can describe it now.”

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Cusack with former Clare great Ollie Baker and former Tipperary great Tommy Dunne.
Pic: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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