Yesterday’s Mail on Sunday carried the banner headline that Donal Óg Cusack, Cork hurling goalkeeper and multiple All-Ireland-medal winner, was outing himself as gay in his new autobiography, Come What May.
By making his sexuality public while still playing Cusack has issued a tacit challenge to the GAA nation in its dealings with him. On the field of play opponents seeking to wound with casual homophobia have had their guns spiked.
Off the field of play . . . well, in some conservative pockets within the Association, Cusack’s identity as a driving force within the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) is likely to remain far more inflammatory than any flummery about bedmates.
In one sense, it should hardly come as a surprise that a top GAA player would state he’s homosexual: if a proportion of the population at large can be assumed to be gay, then why shouldn’t that proportion be the same, if not higher, among men who train for hours in the gym all year long, obsess about their diet and physical well-being, and spend the vast majority of their time outside work with other men who share their interests?
Facetiousness aside, Cusack’s honesty deserves to be applauded. His frank and detailed account of telling his family about his situation, for instance, should help others who face a similar prospect.
And In an odd way it was the perfect week for such a development. In the wake of Boyzone singer Stephen Gately’s unexpected death, news bulletins carried references to his husband Andrew without demur or explanation, a tacit declaration that people don’t need to have twentieth-century attitudes massaged in order to handle twenty-first-century realities.
Cusack’s case is different to Gately’s, of course. In a hurling championship game participants don’t face off in front of a crowd screaming with one voice for a song from the latest album; half of the crowd is usually screaming with one voice for immediate and terrible retaliation to be visited on the opposition.
Some throats are probably warming up already for a sitting duck: Cusack is 32, not particularly old for a goalkeeper as dedicated as the Cloyne club man. He was as good this season as he ever was, so it’s more than likely that when Cork take the field in next year’s National Hurling League and Munster championship he’ll be trotting into goal with the red-and-white hooped jersey.
What will the reaction be from those standing on the terraces behind him? In Christy O’Connor’s fine book ‘Last Men Standing’, which follows hurling goalkeepers, including Cusack, over the 2004 season, one of the common threads to the testimony of the goalies interviewed was the amount of abuse poured out of the terraces onto the heads of the men in the No 1 jersey.
GAA members can be complacent about the innate decency of most spectators at inter-county games, but anyone who has stood behind the goal at one of those games and heard the vilest comments roared about a hurler or footballer’s private life knows there are as many louts following GAA as there are in any other sport.
Cusack has heard as much abuse as any other keeper, a situation which is unlikely to change after yesterday’s revelations; it’s one of the more remarkable aspects of human nature that some people can reconcile the apparent contradiction of abusing others’ personal circumstances – circumstances they’d accommodate willingly if replicated within their own family.
Enough of the anthropology. The Cloyne man joins a pretty select group of gay sportsmen: former NBA player John Amaechi has outed himself, as did Olympic diver Greg Louganis, though it’s significant enough that both of those men did so after their careers were finished. GAA supporters will have to examine their consciences when it comes to the specific imprecations they wish to visit on the Cork goalkeeper next year.
Our kudos, by the way, to the internet sage who wondered if the shocking discovery to be found in the Cloyne man’s autobiography referred to a season spent playing minor football for neighbouring club Russell Rovers.
After all, there are shock revelations, and then there are shock revelations.