A former Kilkenny hurler and Fianna Fáil councillor has slammed Donal O’Grady’s War of Independence-inspired 2004 All- Ireland final dressing room speech as “crazy” and “off-the-wall”, writes John Fogarty.
In tomorrow night’s Laochra Gael programme on TG4, Dónal Óg Cusack reveals the then Cork manager cajoled his players prior to facing Kilkenny by contrasting the counties’ efforts in Ireland’s fight for freedom between 1919 and ’21.
“I always remember the speech that Donal gave us before the game. It might surprise you: he highlighted or contrasted the difference in terms of the contribution that Cork had given during the War of Independence compared to Kilkenny’s.
"We were proud of who we were, we were proud of how we did our business, we were proud of our heritage and it definitely sparked something off inside all of us.”
Peter Cleere, a member of Brian Cody’s panel during the mid-2000s, hit back at O’Grady’s assessment of Kilkenny.
“In fairness, when you’re in the bubble of an All-Ireland final and giving a speech you’re obviously trying to do something to give an edge over the other team.
“You always look for that spark but to question the integrity of Kilkenny people and as a county? It’s crazy stuff, really, that you would compare a hurling match to the commitment given to the War of Independence.
“It just goes to show the bubble Cork were in at that time. That game was so important to them that they would liken it to the War of Independence.
“It’s crazy to think that he would question generations of Kilkenny people all for an All-Ireland final. That’s off-the-wall stuff.
“He’s talking heritage and their culture and their history — there is no county prouder than Kilkenny of its culture and history and all you have to do is look at the hurling tradition they have and what they have done to nurture it.
“I can understand when you’re in that environment that you would say something to give yourself an edge and I’ve no doubt that he actually believed it at the time, but it’s a bit disingenuous to say Cork people did more for the War of Independence than Kilkenny people.”
Cleere, who claimed two All-Ireland SHC medals as a panellist, revealed knocking Cork off the perch was all Kilkenny wished for in 2006. That it came in the final was a bonus.
“When we went to play Cork in 2006 when they were going for three-in-a-row, they had this swagger and this cockiness and almost sneery kind of an attitude.
"They had supposedly brought it to a whole new level. I remember at the time all we wanted to do was beat Cork.
“Obviously, we didn’t talk about the War of Independence and you might think all we wanted to do was win the All-Ireland but really all we wanted to do was beat Cork. It was about stopping Cork because they were so arrogant and cocky.”
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.