Diarmuid O’Sullivan has three All-Ireland medals and a sackful of memories, but he knows it’s time to go.
“I loved coming down the tunnel, out onto the field. It’s a drug. It’s like you’re giving yourself an injection, the light, the supporters...
“I’ve given 12 years to the full-back line, and any fella will tell you about the pressure. Take Brian Murphy – the pressure that man was under was incredible, marking the top dog every day, and if Eoin Kelly or John Mullane gets a goal, he’s castigated.
“I’ve always believed in my own abilities going out on the field, that I could do a job. Even on the poor days I still believed that.”
The pressure comes in different forms.
“There are journalists but there are also what I call ‘computer hurlers’, fellas on websites criticising people. Their opinion doesn’t matter, and never has, but your family has that, they have to listen to radio stations reading out texts.
“I’d have felt a lot of hurt about that, but I’m a big boy, I can handle that.”
There was hurt last year. He nearly walked away after the Clare game but he stayed on for one last stand against Kilkenny.
“I had one thing on my mind for that game – my own performance. I know there were images of me crying and so on, that I’d retired – I had no decision made at that stage, I was just glad the season was over.
“The whole thing, the pressure – it was just relief that it was over. It was almost physical. Only for a couple of my close games I probably would have walked away after the Clare game, the criticism was so personal.
“That’s just how it is. In the last few weeks, for instance, I’ve met people who were criticising me all last season, yet they’ve been saying ‘when are you coming back’!”
He remembers the friends – Cork team trainer Jerry Wallace (“The work he put into me was nobody’s business”), his employers Lagans, his new mates in Highfield RFC (“They’ve been outstanding, I’m sorry I didn’t do it years ago”).
And his teammates. He e-mailed them yesterday with a simple message: they’d done it all, all together.
O’Sullivan is aware of how Cork are perceived after not one, but two winters of discontent.
“People will always have their own opinions. Mistakes were made on all sides, and everybody would admit that – on all sides. Since 2002 people have built a persona up about this Cork team that they’re a law unto themselves. That’s not true.
“It’s always been about getting better. Teams prepare to give a performance, but it’s different in Cork, it’s different in Kilkenny. You’re preparing to win because you want to win. That’s what it has always been about, wanting to get to the top of the ladder.”
Having his father Jerry as Cork County Board chairman was another complication. “That was extremely difficult, but only once was it drawn into the gutter, by a certain man who got a phone call.
“My relationship with him has never been anything but unbelievable. He’d be the first person I’d talk to, for instance with this decision.
“Your family is your family. I’m finished with intercounty hurling now, he’ll step down as county board chairman in a couple of years, he’ll look to new things and so will I. That’s part of life.”
O’Sullivan knows the rumour mill won’t be long cranking up, so he puts his retirement into an exact context.
“I said to (Cork manager) Denis Walsh a few weeks ago I wasn’t interested in playing in the full-back line but felt I might have something to offer elsewhere on the field, we had a conversation about it.
“I went away, trained with Cloyne for a few weeks and when I spoke to him again he said they’d reviewed it and they’d decided to move on with the younger fellas.
“That’s fair enough, I knew that was the chance I was taking, and best of luck to them. Talking to the players, they’re very happy with him, and I even said to Denis on the phone today, ‘If you get these guys going in the right direction you will have the 30 most committed lads you’ll ever come across; this team can be very good for you and you can be very good for this team’. I think they can be an unbelievable combination.”
Good times? O’Sullivan and Cusack were strolling through Thurles after a game last year when a car pulled up and a voice echoed from within: “I didn’t see the two of ye since I carried you around Thurles.” It was Paul Shelley, reliving the 2000 Munster final. Other notables? The big man is generous.
“Colin Lynch has carried that Clare team for eight years on his own, since Daly and McMahon stepped down. Unbelievable. That’s a man I’d respect.
“Joe Canning – I consider myself a strong man but he just pushed me to one side last year and finished.
“The first player I’d buy for Cork if there was a transfer market would be Mullane. His commitment to Waterford in last year’s All-Ireland final (was) incredible. And a good man to talk out on the field, too.
“Shefflin has been incredible, too. What has he scored in the championship? He’s big, he’s physical, he can look after himself. Comerford, incredibly talented. Offaly, some of the best hurlers you’d meet in John Troy, the Dooleys. That’s the quality you’re up against.”
A last question about the good days gets an emphatic response.
“Highs? It’s a high every day you play for Cork. I have no regrets when it comes to hurling. None. You’re in that Cork jersey, you’re bulletproof.”