Dónal Óg Cusack: We didn’t give board ‘half enough of it’ during strike

Dónal Óg Cusack regrets that Cork’s senior hurlers didn’t give the county board “half enough of it” during their 2009 strike.

Dónal Óg Cusack: We didn’t give board ‘half enough of it’ during strike

The three-time All-Ireland SHC winning goalkeeper is the subject of the first episode of the 15th series of Laochra Gael to be aired next week.

In the programme, the current Clare coach says he rues how then manager Gerald McCarthy and others were hurt during the stand-off, which ended when McCarthy stood down in March following death threats.

“You see, Gerald was doing his best; he wanted to do his best,” remarks Cusack. “He was a great Cork player, but we felt there was better management propositions out there.

“When it was becoming pretty apparent what was ahead of us, myself and John [Gardiner] said we need to go and talk to Gerald face-to-face and tell him what was going on. So, we told him the story, told him that the players didn’t have confidence in him.

“Gerald made it clear to us that night that he wasn’t going anywhere.

“We went back to our players and said: ‘This is the choice that we have. What do you want to do?’

“I think it was unanimous that the players would go on strike, thus starting that whole winter of, if you like, misery again.

“Going into it, the question we were faced with: Do we finally yield to the board and back down from them or do we stand up and fight for what we believed in? I regret anybody got hurt in it. I regret Gerald had to be in the position he had to be in, because the fight was between the players and the board, yet the board knew exactly what they were doing.

“But in terms of regretting what we did? The only regret I have is that we didn’t give them half enough of it, that when we had our foot on their chests that we should have went all the ways. We stood up, we fought, and we stuck together and we came out the other side.”

On the 2002 strike, Cusack recalls: “Somebody had to put their head above the parapet, if you like. I was the guy who was doing the talking, but I was only representing very much the views of the vast majority of players. The county board, the organisation that should be putting in place every facility to help these players excel at their game and represent their county, were not doing their duty.

“We were taking on an institution, but we also knew that if we stuck together that we wouldn’t be beaten and that’s how it turned out.”

The nature of Cusack’s exit from the inter-county scene is still keenly felt by the Cloyne man. Jimmy Barry-Murphy chose to remove him from the panel in early 2013 after the then 35-year-old had recovered from an Achilles tendon rupture the previous season.

“He [Barry-Murphy] said: ‘Look, I’ve made the decision to let you go.’ I said: ‘But, Jimmy, I know you made me a promise. You came down to my own house and you promised me.’ I said: ‘Please don’t do this to me. Whatever about dropping me, whatever about making me No 2, No 3, No 4, I’ll take that, but don’t not give me the opportunity to get back into the ring and fight. But that was his decision, he was manager of the team. I still hadn’t enough of it. I still hadn’t walked out the door, in that place I wanted to be when I was sick of it.”

Cusack addresses his decision to go public with his homosexuality in 2009 with his autobiography.

“It was a good thing to do with my profile and I’d like to think that it did make it easier for the next person, but I don’t think there was any more pressure on me than facing into the Munster championship.”

He also reveals how Donal O’Grady inspired his players prior to the 2004 All-Ireland final win over Kilkenny.

“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.”

He also speaks of how he doctored sliotars in 2006, citing the All-Ireland semi-final win over Waterford. “Our safe transfer of the ball and accuracy of our game and accuracy of the puck-outs was very important and the sliotars were a huge part of it. If that meant tampering with the sliotar, we were gonna do it. I was gonna do it. I would have been filing down the rims of sliotars to take the edge off them. If I saw a nice sliotar, I would always make sure it would be put away into my bag of sliotars.

“But I do recall that day thinking: Right, I need these sliotars.

“And I remember asking the ball boy: ‘If you look after me, I’ll give you my jersey after this game’.”

Laochra Gael: Dónal Óg Cusack is the first in the 15th series of Nemeton’s Laochra Gael. It will be screened on TG4 next Wednesday evening, March 15.

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