It was as close to kinship as you could get. So precious that those who they should have invited into their inner circle felt left out.
“Before the 2003 first round game against Clare,” remembers Pat Mulcahy, “myself and Wayne (Sherlock) were in the full-back line with Diarmuid and Dónal Óg. I turned around for the national anthem and the two boys were standing for it inside under the crossbar.
“I looked over to Wayne as if to say, ‘Jesus what’s going on here?’ It was my second championship game and I was standing on my own. In fairness, we rectified it for the Munster final and all four of us did it for years but the lads were that tight they forgot about us.”
Hurling’s Han Solo and Chewbacca, tight they certainly were. Ógie and Sully. Cloyne and Cloyne. Thick as thieves when it came to doctoring sliotars. Loyal as dogs as O’Sullivan demonstrated when he asked a garda to remove a spectator who was making egregious comments about Cusack during a Munster championship clash. Devoted as brothers as Cusack illustrated in his autobiography how he helped O’Sullivan come to terms with the end of his inter-county career. “I can’t remember when Diarmuid O’Sullivan wasn’t part of my life,” Cusack wrote in ‘Come What May’. “We hurled together on so many teams from childhood onwards, that we lost count.”
On Sunday, he’s part of it once more but not like they ever would have imagined as they are pitted coach versus coach, selector against selector. It will be the fourth time they have shared the sideline since January last year — two Munster League games and this past February’s Division 1A game in Páirc Uí Rinn — but nothing compares to what awaits them under Semple Stadium’s Kinane Stand as O’Sullivan keeps the Shandon Steeple close to his breast and Cusack raises the Banner. What the occasion might evoke and provoke in them.
“I never heard a cross word said between the two and that’s the honest truth,” says Mulcahy. “To be able to say that about two strong characters like them is really something. They had huge respect for each other. Dónal Óg had huge respect for Diarmuid’s confidence and physicality and got him out of jail a lot. It will be interesting to see how they got on because they never had a disagreement. Dónal Óg would always handle Diarmuid very well and Diarmuid the same when Dónal Óg needed him.”
On the field, their attributes complemented each other’s but now separated, they are recognised in their own right. As Mulcahy acknowledges: “They bring something completely different. Dónal Óg was always incredibly analytical. Everything was analysed to a tee. I would be interested in that area but he would bring things to another level in terms of his detail and his understanding. It’s obvious that year on year with Cork he was getting better.
“Diarmuid would have had huge belief in himself and for the last line of defence out the field that’s crucial. There’s a lot of talk about his size but he was the level of assuredness that he brought to a big day that stood out for me. The bigger the occasion, the more he enjoyed it.
“There’s a lot of talk about the positive impact he’s having on (Damien) Cahalane. I know they get on quite well together as a mentor and player and it’s that great attitude which Diarmuid as a coach is passing onto him. To know he has your back is major. I’m a bit surprised he’s gone into it (coaching) but he has been quite successful with underage and now with Kieran (Kingston).”
Notwithstanding being in direct opposition to O’Sullivan, Cusack arguably faces the most conflicted afternoon facing his beloved county, one he toiled so long for and a board whose officials he waged war against.
Mulcahy has noticed just how quiet he has been as part of Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor’s management team whereas with Davy Fitzgerald last year he was more to the forefront. But then he too knows behind that stillness masks a steely determination to remind Cork of his worth as a coach.
“You can be sure he has prepared mentally for Sunday regardless of what happens because that’s the kind of fella he is. There’s nothing that he won’t be ready for. He’s going to know exactly what’s at stake and what it means to be preparing a team against one he used to play for 15 years. There’s going to be an emotional piece for him.
“But you can be absolutely sure he’ll be doing everything in his power to make sure Clare win on Sunday. That’s his mentality. He might think about it afterwards but he’s going to be prepared to do his best for them. He had his run-ins with the Cork County Board and he will want to prove a point that what he has done with Clare since the start of last season has contributed to their success.”
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