Cork can still count on Cusack’s influence
By Kieran Shannon
For years they’ve been the most identifiable players with hurling’s most recognised counties.
Lar with Tipp.
Henry for Kilkenny.
Donal Óg with Cork.
Even as recently as last summer they were the standout players with each of those teams.
Now there’s a real prospect we won’t see any of them play this summer, or ever again with their county.
Shefflin might get back late this summer but if so it will be his last hurrah. The body is obviously telling him it can only take so much, at most that ninth All-Ireland medal.
Corbett will have seen nothing in his hometown of Thurles last Sunday to entice him back this season. He isn’t even training with his club and it would take an inspired Tipperary set-up along the lines of the Sheedy years for him to muster up the enthusiasm for a tilt at a third All-Ireland.
And going by reports, it looks like Donal Óg Cusack won’t get another chance this year to secure his fourth All Ireland. It certainly looks like he won’t ever get to win a league medal on the field now.
When Cork last won that competition back in 1998, he was a sub, the back-up to one Ger Cunningham. On Sunday week as Cork bid to end that 14-year gap, he’ll again watch the final from the dugout, this time very likely on crutches, with Cunningham on the line.
It’s often forgotten, that league success of ’98. Last weekend a number of commentators in looking at Cork’s resurgence this spring instantly resurrected the All Ireland-winning campaign of ’99.
The comparison was natural as it was obvious, with both campaigns infused by youth and overseen by the inspired Jimmy Barry-Murphy, but a closer examination and probably time itself will prove that this campaign is more like that of ’98.
In the collective memory and in the telling of GAA history there is a tendency to treat successful seasons in splendid isolation but Cork did not come like the mushrooms in ’99. It took JBM three years to build that team and a watershed in their evolution was the month of May, 1998. That was the month the Cork public fell back in love with a Cork team and followed them in their droves, first beating Clare in a league semi-final in Thurles, then Waterford in the league final there before finishing up the month beating Limerick in the Gaelic Grounds, Cork’s first meaningful championship victory in six years.
Loughnane’s Clare would finish their season the following month, but only after a late spurt of scores. Only the immortal rivalry of Clare-Tipperary generated such anticipation and tension for an early-round championship game in the late ’90s as that showdown in Thurles generated.
Such was the intensity Clare approached the game, Ger Loughnane and his charges initiated the dummy team and became the first team to stand together for the national anthem. It’s standard now but back then it prompted outrage, with Liam Griffin remarking that it was as if Clare were playing The Last Game Ever Played.
It would only be the last game Cork played that summer but it was the start of something else. “Who at the start of ’99 thought Cork would win that year’s All Ireland?” one writer posed the question last weekend.
Well, quite a number of commentators actually. Only Clare were obviously superior to them in ’98. It was only after a couple of a disastrous challenge games against Tipperary when JBM announced his team for the 1999 Munster semi-final with Waterford that Cork reverted to underdogs, with observers feeling by handing six more youngsters their debuts, JBM had taken his faith in youth a step too far.
In that summer of ’99 some of the stalwarts of ’98 dropped to the bench; Kieran Morrison, Seanie Farrell, Kevin Murray, Mick Daly. By 2000 most of them were off the panel. That trend could repeat itself in JBM’s latest team-building exercise but just like those four aforementioned players, veterans like John Gardiner, Tom Kenny, Seán Óg Ó hAilpín and especially Cusack have been pivotal in helping younger teammates acclimatise to top inter-county hurling.
One of the most wonderful dynamics in hurling this past decade has been the relationship Cusack has built up with his understudies, Anthony Nash and Martin Coleman. They’ve worked so hard together to help each other, to improve each other, to better each other.
After Coleman came in for the red-carded Cusack in the epic 2008 qualifier against Galway, the two of them embraced for a good two minutes, in Cusack’s estimation. “Marty was crying like mad,” he’d write in his autobiography, “and I was crying also.” Coleman’s finest hour had been one of his mentor’s too.
A few years ago Mick O’Driscoll was voted by his Munster teammates as their Player of the Year even though he only made the matchday 22 for half their games.
Often you can contribute more as a leader than as a mere player.
Whether this year proves to be more like ’98 or ’99 in the long run, whenever Cork win their next All-Ireland, Cusack’s influence and guidance will still be tangible.Home