Inspired Donal Óg Cusack deal shows Davy Fitzgerald putting county first

Well, no doubting about which room wall in all of hurling you’d most want to be a fly on next year — not least because the caricature of Davy Fitzgerald up to now would have had you left highly susceptible to being squashed against it on the merest whim.
Inspired Donal Óg Cusack deal shows Davy Fitzgerald putting county first

Yet as intriguing as the prospect of eavesdropping on future conversations between Dónal Óg Cusack and Fitzgerald is, probably the most fascinating and vital chats between the pair have already taken place.

Cusack is not coming up to Clare to dip his toes in senior inter-county hurling. He is coming up to win All Irelands.

He wouldn’t have given up his commitments with RTÉ, the GPA, and most tellingly of all, his playing career with Cloyne, for anything less.

He’s giving up it all to win it all.

Cusack though is as calculated as he is a dreamer.

He would have needed assurances from Fitzgerald about his role. While he will no doubt respect who is the ultimate boss, Fitzgerald must understand that he is getting much more than just a coach and a selector.

In his column for this paper this past summer, Cusack recognised both the upside and limitations of Fitzgerald.

“Personally I believe that Davy has the X factor when it comes to training teams.

“He needs good people around him though and in particular somebody who knows how to apply the brakes every now and then.”

Cusack would have only signed up on the premise that he could be that particular somebody.

Fitzgerald though must already have been halfway there in pushing down on the brakes by even entertaining the idea of approaching a Cusack.

He needed to pull some rabbit out of the hat to galvanise his players, more so than the Clare public. But what a rabbit he’s pulled here. Much more so than desperation, this move smacks of inspiration, and even louder again, ambition.

For all their previous battles and differences, that is something they share in common.

They’re winners, competitors.

That commonality was what most fuelled their previous battles and differences.

It says a lot about Fitzgerald and a lot about other constituencies that Cusack’s first inter-county coaching gig will be in Clare.

For some reason only known to a couple of old friends and former Cork goalkeepers, the Cloyne man is not up in Dublin with Ger Cunningham; you would have thought he was exactly the kind of high performer and tactician that set-up required.

There would have been no better way of Waterford or Limerick signalling their intent of pushing on by asking Cusack to cross into a neighbouring county.

More so it reflects very poorly on Cusack’s native county as it does very well on Fitzgerald.

Imagine having a student of the game like him involved, if not over, the county minors.

Contrary to what his detractors on Leeside may say, Cusack has shown remarkable promise as a coach.

Long before his recent involvement with the St Colman’s select that won a county minor title, he was the coach to the senior Cloyne team that reached three county finals in the mid-noughties.

Of course that was thrown back at him, not least by Gerald McCarthy when Cusack met him to inform him that the Cork players did not want McCarthy to continue on as their manager for 2009.

Cusack had coached Cloyne in three county finals and couldn’t win one of them, McCarthy would remind him, while McCarthy coached his own club to three county titles immediately after his own playing days.

In an unbecoming feud, it was one of its lowest, most unbecoming lines.

As if Cusack would have been better to not have reached any of those finals at all.

As if as big a club as the Barrs would now turn their nose at reaching three consecutive counties, let alone a small club like Cloyne.

The consistency and cohesion Cloyne showed, the standards they set in those years, any fair-minded person could only have been impressed and want to work with their chief architect.

And so, 39 years after Father Harry Bohan’s inspired decision to cold call Justin McCarthy, another prophet in his own Rebel land is welcomed and snapped up by the Banner.

We were rather looking forward to the idea of Cusack being present and contributing at this Thursday’s Cork GAA strategic consultation meeting with former county players, an initiative being coordinated by the likes of John Allen and Conor Counihan.

As progressive and reconciliatory a development at it is, for Cusack it’s clearly too little, too late.

Following him work with Fitzgerald though is a much more exciting prospect.

You can just imagine the conversations, let alone the endless Gift Grub and Tierney Talk sketches they’ll prompt.

Cusack’s lower baritone: “I get what you’re saying, Davy, I respect what you’re saying, but I don’t agree. And I’ll tell you why...”

Davy’s rather higher-pitched: “Go on!”

This will be an alliance high on not just passion but strategy.

You can just picture the X and Os discussions the pair of them will engage in, the proverbial salt and pepper moving about the table, even if occasionally they’ll be tempted to chuck one of the canisters at the other.

It’s a somewhat calculated move on Fitzgerald’s behalf.

With Cusack now onboard, Davy is surely getting and giving himself more than another year as Clare manager.

But more so it signals a generosity and growth on his part.

One of the reasons he was believed to have lost the services of Paul Kinnerk and Joe O’Connor was because of the proportionality of credit that went with the 2013 All-Ireland.

Now in signing a big name and personality in Cusack, he is patently showing he doesn’t care who gets the credit in victory as long as there is victory.

Ten years ago this column interviewed Kieran McGeeney in which he explained why he liked the film Any Given Sunday so much.

It wasn’t so much the Inches speech. It was that the Al Pacino coaching character finally got the Jamie Foxx character.

He finally changed.

That is what you wish for with so many GAA managers.

That in their movie, that in the end, they acknowledge their character flaws and change.

Too many are too proud or blind to do so.

But just as Fitzgerald has provided Cusack with the chance the Corkman needed, Cusack could be just the confidant and change he needed.

They can each help the other be the coach they’ve long promised to be.

There’ll be some movie in it one way or another.

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