Homecoming with a difference for Dónal Óg Cusack

Donal Óg Cusack with Davy Fitzgerald

Dónal Óg Cusack has already prowled more than a few touchlines since becoming the Clare senior hurling coach.

Páirc Cluain Uamha will be a new experience while at the same time presenting a familiar one as the Banner travel to Cusack’s home of Cloyne to take on Cork to mark the official opening of the club’s new complex.

Clare will train in Cloyne tonight, with the game taking place at 7pm tomorrow night.

Cusack isn’t expecting any barracking from the sidelines when he takes his spot in the away dugout, but he acknowledges what a special occasion it is, especially as his good friend Diarmuid O’Sullivan is now a Cork selector.

“It’s nice for Cloyne to have Diarmuid involved with Cork, myself with Clare and Jerry O’Sullivan as Munster Council chairman,” he says.

It won’t be Cusack’s first time facing Cork — that was in the Munster SHL in January — and, in any case, the opposition doesn’t matter to him.

In the same way that he was a rival of Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald for so long but didn’t have any hesitation when he got the call asking if he was interested.

“It’s the nature of the beast when you’re playing inter-county,” he says.

“Davy is a really competitive man, I consider myself competitive as well, and you’re bound to have those situations. Things move on, life changes, I know enough about life to know that.

“It’s all-consuming and it’s demanding but it’s the kind of commitment the players deserve.”

The role has allowed him to observe Fitzgerald at close quarters, and it has been illuminating. To those who form their opinion of him based on sometimes-hyper, sometimes-monosyllabic interviews, Cusack suggests they should walk a mile in his Puma Kings.

“I respect his passion for the game,” he says, “he’s committed to doing anything he can to make his players better and make his operation better.

“Davy will do anything he can for Clare to win. He’s definitely not a man who wants yes-men around him, and he’s a very thoughtful man as well.

“I always say it, even about players, you put a microphone in front of someone straight after a game and he’s after coming out of a highly tense, competitive environment. Maybe the people sitting down at home are just after having their dinner inside in their living room and the person on TV can appear very animated.

“There are a lot of different sides to Davy, much more so than what you see with the public persona. From that point of view, I’ve been glad to get to know the man better.”

Tomorrow night, Fitzgerald and Cusack bring their side up against a Cork squad in a slight state of flux, transitioning after the departures of some big names. It’s something he can identify with.

“To be honest, my focus is on Clare and it would be a bit unfair to be talking about Kieran Kingston’s operation,” Cusack says.

“I was involved with him for a number of years and he was top-class, a man I have great respect for. A lot of those players, I would have played with and they have given great service.

“Intercounty is like all top-level sport, it can be very cruel — I finished myself, I went out one day thinking I was captain of Cork and feeling as good and as strong as ever and you hear a noise behind you and feel a pain in your leg and the whole thing changes.”

That was against Tipperary in the league semi-final of 2012, a game which proved to be his last. Manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy cut him from the panel at the start of 2013, but Cusack never had time to dwell on any feelings of rejection.

“I love playing the game, but I’d be busy as well,” he says.

“I have a demanding job, I’m trying to study now in college and get myself a Master’s degree in engineering. There was the media too, I think it’s important to keep moving on and changing.

“I know you have to live in the moment as much as possible. You’re asked if Clare is a stepping-stone to anything, in my head it’s the stone I’m on and nothing else, it’s all about the next training session or the next match.”

Here’s a little extra sport. Watch the latest BallTalk for the best sports chat and analysis:

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