Donal Óg Cusack
|Irish name||Dónall Óg Ó Cíosóg|
16 March 1967 |
Cloyne, County Cork, Ireland
|Height||6 ft 0 in (1.83 m)|
Born in Cloyne, County Cork, Cusack first excelled at hurling whilst at school in Midleton CBS. He arrived on the inter-county scene at the age of eighteen when he first linked up with the Cork minor team, before later lining out with the under-21 side. He made his senior debut in the 1996 Oireachtas Tournament. Cusack went on to play a key role for Cork, on and off the field, and has won three All-Ireland medals, five Munster medals and two All-Star awards. His brother, Conor Cusack, was an All-Ireland runner-up with Cork.
Cusack represented the Munster inter-provincial team on a number of occasions in the early part of his career, winning one Inter-provincial medal on the field of play in 2005. At club level he won one championship medal with divisional side Imokilly, while he also plays with Cloyne.
Cited by many as one of the most influential inter-county players of his generation, through his championing of the cause of player welfare with the Gaelic Players Association and his innovation as a goalkeeper, Cusack became the first openly gay elite Irish sportsman in 2009.
Cusack has made 54 championship appearances for Cork, more than any other goalkeeper in the county's history. He announced his retirement from inter-county hurling in March 2013 after effectively being dropped from the team.
Cusack was born in Cloyne, County Cork in 1977. He was born into a family that had a strong link to Cork's hurling glories of the past. One of his close relations was Christy Ring, regarded by many as the greatest hurler of all time, and holder of a record eight All-Ireland medals with Cork.
Cusack was educated at the local national school in Cloyne village and later attended nearby Midleton CBS. It was here that his hurling talents first came to the fore. Cusack quickly became a key fixture on the school's senior hurling team and in 1994 his team lost the Dr. Harty Cup (Munster Senior Colleges' Hurling Championship) final. The next year he repeated his Leaving Certificate and it paid off as he landed a Dr. Harty Cup title, making up for the previous year's loss. Following his secondary schooling Cusack began a career as an electrician.
I get more out of men. Always have. I know I am different but just in this way. Whatever you may feel about me or who I am, I've always been at peace with it.
The following was serialised in the Mail on Sunday:
Since I was 13 or 14, I knew I was a bit different. I hate labels though. That's the way I am. I live with it and I am fine with it. People close to me will tell you there were never any tears. There was never agony. I just know this thing. [...] I've had to say this to people I'm close to again and again. This is who I am. This is what I do. I spend a lot of time trying to work things out but once I know something about myself, I know it. I don't agonise. It's logical to me. I thought about this but never had any problems dealing with it.
According to Cusack, discussing his sexual orientation strengthened his bond with his fellow players. He went for a walk with then captain Seán Óg Ó hAilpín, whom Cusack had known since they were boys, and told him "the whole story, stuff that I thought he would have guessed", had "a deep and complex conversation from both sides and we came out of it like brothers."
Cusack plays his local club hurling with his local club in Cloyne and has had some success with the club. He has annexed a number of East Cork hurling titles; however, it was as a member of the Imokilly divisional side in 1997 that he enjoyed his greatest success to date. That year Cusack lined out in the final of the Cork Senior Hurling Championship, with Sarsfield's providing the opposition. A thrilling 1–18 to 2–12 victory gave Imokilly the title and gave Cusack a coveted county senior championship winners' medal.
1997 also saw Cusack taste victory with Cloyne. The club reached the county final of the Cork Intermediate Hurling Championship that year, with Deleanys providing the opposition. The final w histle in that game saw Cloyne claim a merited 1–12 to 1–7 victory, giving Cusack a county intermediate championship winners' medal. This victory allowed Cloyne to join the ranks of the Cork Senior Hurling Championship in 1998.
By 2004 Cloyne had consolidated their position in the senior ranks, with Cusack serving as trainer of the team, and even reached the final. Na Piarsaigh provided the opposition; however, Cusack's side were no match for the city side. A great second-half display saw Cusack end up on the wrong side of a 0–17 to 0–10 defeat.
In 2005 Cloyne set out to avenge the previous year's defeat and reached the county final again. Newtownshandrum were the opponents on that occasion; however, Cloyne were still off the pace. A 0–15 to 0–9 defeat saw 'Newtown' take their third county title of the decade, while Cusack ended up on the losing side for a second consecutive year.
2006 saw Cloyne reach a third successive county final. Erin's Own were the opponents and an exciting game ensued. A thrilling game produced a score line of 2–19 to 3–14, however, for the third year in-a-row Cusack ended up on the losing side.
Since that defeat Cloyne have failed to reach the Championship decider of the County Championship.
Minor and Under-21
Cusack's hurling skills at colleges and club championship levels brought him to the attentions of the Cork inter-county selectors and he was soon picked for the minor team. In 1995 he won his sole Munster minor winners' medal as Cork trounced Waterford by 3–18 to 0–10. Cork later qualified for the All-Ireland final against Kilkenny with Cusack lining out in goal. The game turned into a rout as Cork won easily, giving Cusack a coveted All-Ireland winners' medal in the minor grade.
The following year Cusack moved onto the Cork under-21 team and more success quickly followed. He won a Munster title in this grade that same year as Clare were totally outclassed on a score line of 3–16 to 2–7. Cork, however, fell in the All-Ireland semi-final against Galway.
In 1997 Cusack added a second Munster under-21 medal to his collection when Tipperary were defeated by a single point. It took a late goal by Timmy McCarthy to secure a 1–11 to 0–13 victory. The subsequent All-Ireland final saw Cork take on Galway and Cusack lining out in his usual left corner-forward spot. Cork were victorious on that occasion on a score line of 3–11 to 0–13 giving Cusack a coveted All-Ireland under-21 winners' medal.
1998 saw Cork maintaining their provincial dominance with Cusack collecting a third consecutive Munster under-21 medal with a 3–18 to 1–10 victory over Tipp. This victory marks Cusack out as one of the few players who never lost a provincial under-21 championship game. For the third year in a row Cork played in the All-Ireland final and, for the second consecutive year, Galway were the opponents. In a close game Cork just about secured a 2–15 to 2–10 win. It was Cusack's second consecutive All-Ireland under-21 winners' medal.
Cusack's move onto the Cork senior team was a natural progression for such a talented player. He made his senior debut in an Oireachtas game against Tipperary in 1996; however, at the time Ger Cunningham's position as first-choice goalkeeper was safe.
Following the conclusion of the 1998 championship Cunningham retired from inter-county hurling and Cusack was installed as Cork's new custodian. His elevation to the starting fifteen coincided with a year when Cork were back in their first Munster final since 1992. Clare, the team that had won three of the last four provincial titles, together with two All-Ireland titles, provided the opposition and were very much the favourites going into the game. An exciting contest unfolded with Joe Deane scoring a key goal after an excellent pass from Seánie McGrath. A score line of 1–15 to 0–14 gave Cork the victory and gave Cusack his first senior Munster title. Cork later defeated Offaly in one of the games of the year to set up an All-Ireland final meeting with arch-rivals Kilkenny. A wet and windy day meant that the classic game that everyone expected failed to materialise. Both sides shot seventeen wides over the course of the seventy minutes as a young and inexperienced Cork came back from five points down to win by 0–13 to 0–12. It was Cork's first senior All-Ireland title since 1990 and it was Cusack's first. He finished off the year by claiming his first All-Star award.
In 2000 Cork were the favourites to retain their All-Ireland title. The team got off to a good start by retaining their Munster title, however, Tipperary put up a good fight. It was Cusack's second Munster title as Cork won by 0–23 to 3–12. Cork's next game was an All-Ireland semi-final meeting with Offaly. While Cork were expected to win the game without breaking a sweat Offaly caught Cusack's side on the hop and recorded a 0–19 to 0–15 win.
While the Cork hurling team should have gone from strength to strength as a result of a solid foundation at minor and under-21 levels the opposite happened. Embarrassing defeats in 2001 and 2002 saw the Cork hurling team reach rock bottom and call a players' strike just before Christmas in 2002. Cusack played a huge role as one of the main spokesmen in representing the welfare of his fellow players. Had the strike failed it could have meant the end of his and his teammates' careers, however, in the end the county board relented and met the demands. Although still amateur sportsmen the Cork senior hurling team were treated as professional athletes.
In 2003 Cork's players were vindicated in taking a stand as the team reached the Munster final for the first time in three years. Waterford provided the opposition on that occasion as one of hurling's modern rivalries began in earnest. An exciting game resulted between the two teams; however, victory went to Cork by 3–16 to 3–12. It was Cusack's third Munster medal and it gave a signal that Cork were back. Cusack's side were hot favourites going into the subsequent All-Ireland semi-final against Wexford, however, it was far from a walkover. In one of the most exciting games of the championship both sides finished level: Cork 2–20, Wexford 3–17. Both sides met again six days later with Cork making no mistake and taking the spoils on a score line of 3–17 to 2–7. This win set up an All-Ireland final meeting with Kilkenny. In another thrilling game of hurling both teams were level for much of the game, exchanging tit-for-tat scores. A Setanta Ó hAilpín goal steadied the Cork ship, however, a Martin Comerford goal five minutes from the end settled the game as Kilkenny went on to win by 1–14 to 1–11.
2004 saw Cork reach the Munster final once again and, for the second consecutive year, Waterford provided the opposition. In what many consider to be the greatest provincial decider of them all, both sides fought tooth-and-nail for the full seventy minutes. Cork lost the game by just a single point on a score line of Waterford 3–16, Cork 1–21. Although Cork surrendered their provincial crown they were still in with a chance of landing the All-Ireland title. After manoeuvring through the qualifiers Cork reached a second consecutive All-Ireland final and, once again, Kilkenny provided the opposition. This game took on a life of its own for a number of reasons. Chief among these was the fact that Kilkenny were attempting to capture a third All-Ireland in-a-row and go one ahead of Cork in the All-Ireland roll of honour. The game was expected to be another classic; however, a damp day put an end to this. The first-half was a low-scoring affair and provided little excitement for fans. The second-half saw Cork completely take over. For the last twenty-three minutes Cork scored nine unanswered points and went on to win the game by 0–17 to 0–9. It was Cusack's second All-Ireland winners' medal.
In 2005 Cork were on form again. They won back the provincial crown that year with a 1–12 to 1–16 victory over Tipperary. It was Cusack's fourth Munster winners' medal as Cork went on the march for glory once again. In the All-Ireland semi-final against Clare their championship campaign was nearly derailed when they fell behind by seven points at the start of the second half. A huge performance by Cork turned this deficit around and Cusack's side eventually went on to win the game by 0–16 to 0–15. While it was expected[by whom?] that Cork and Kilkenny would do battle again in a third consecutive All-Ireland final Galway were the surprise winners of the second semi-final. It was the first meeting of Cork and Galway in an All-Ireland final since 1990 and even more daunting was the fact that men from the west had never beaten Cork in a championship decider. Once again neither side broke away into a considerable lead, however, at the final whistle Cork were ahead by 1–21 to 1–16. For the second year in-a-row Cork were the All-Ireland champions and Cusack collected his third winners' medal.
In 2006 expectations were high amongst Cork supporters that the team could win a third successive All-Ireland title. These expectations were heightened when the team won the Munster Championship, with Cusack capturing his fifth provincial medal. Cusack had his best championship season with Cork in 2006. He provided real leadership from his goalkeeping position and was one of the stars of the team. Cork were defeated by Kilkenny and were denied the three-in-a-row. In spite of this Cusack won a long-overdue second All-Star Award in November 2006.
In 2007 Cork set out to atone for their failure to capture the elusive three in-a-row. The first game of the championship pitted Cork against Clare, however, there was controversy before the sliothar was even thrown in. The so-called Semplegate affair saw both Cork and Clare emerge from the tunnel at the same. A melee ensued with Cork players Cusack, Diarmuid O'Sullivan and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín being singled out as culprits. Cork won the game against Clare, however, the three players mentioned earlier suspended for the next game against Waterford. Cork lost on that occasion and had to play in the qualifiers in an effort to get their championship campaign back on track. Cork qualified along with Tipperary and were drawn to play Waterford for the second time that year in the All-Ireland quarter-final. That game saw Cusack make a vital save in injury time when Cork were leading by a point, however, Waterford went on to level the scores and a replay was forced. Waterford won the replay and Cork's season came to an abrupt end.
The beginning of 2007 saw Cork's pre-season preparation hampered due to disagreements with the Cork County Board. The Cork senior Gaelic football team refused to play under new manager Teddy Holland and the Cork senior hurlers withdrew their services in sympathy. The 'strike' continued until February 2007, which resulted in Cusack's side withdrawing from the Waterford Crystal Cup as well as postponing their opening National Hurling League games against Kilkenny and Waterford. Cork were later forced to forfeit their league points after failing to fulfill these fixtures. Cork's first outing in the championship was a meeting with Tipperary. On that occasion Tipp defeated their age-old rivals at home, ending a hoodoo that had lasted since 1923. This defeat resulted in Cork having a second chance in the All-Ireland qualifiers. An unconvincing victory over Dublin set up a meeting with Galway, a team tipped for All-Ireland success. The first half was a scrappy affair with Cusack receiving a yellow card early in the first-half. He later received a second yellow card for pulling down a Galway player and was duly sent off shortly before the interval. Cork, however, went on to win the game with Martin Coleman, Jnr deputising for the sidelined Cusack. In the second-half Cork took charge with Joe Deane giving a great display and scoring four crucial points from play to help his team to a 0–23 to 2–15 victory and a place in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Clare were the opposition on that occasion and, once again, Cork gave a poor first-half display. The second-half was a different story with Cork taking charge once again and securing a 2–19 to 2–17 victory. This win allowed Cork to advance to the All-Ireland semi-final where Kilkenny provided the opposition. It was the first time that these two teams met in the championship outside of an All-Ireland final. That game was an intriguing encounter; however, 'the Cats' won the day by 1–23 to 0–17.
Following the defeat by Kilkenny in 2008 manager Gerald McCarthy's two-year contract came to an end. He was later re-appointed for a further two-year term by the Cork County Board, in spite of the majority of the players not wanting him to stay on. The players on the 2008 panel, with Cusack taking a more subdued role than normal, refused to play or train under McCarthy. (see 2008-2009 Cork players strike). McCarthy accordingly began the 2009 National League campaign with a new squad, none of whom had been able to make the previous year's panel. After months of pressure McCarthy eventually stepped down as manager.
Following the resolution to these difficulties Cork were defeated by Tipperary on a score line of 1–19 to 0–19 in the opening round of the Munster campaign. After a convincing win over Offaly, Cork's next assignment was a win-or-bust All-Ireland qualifier meeting with Galway. Cork faltered in the final ten minutes, in spite of two great saves from Joe Canning goal chances, and 'the Tribesmen' knocked 'the Rebels' out of the championship by 1–19 to 0–15.
In February 2013 Óg Cusack was omitted from the Cork panel for the first time in 17 years by Jimmy Barry Murphy for the league campaign which more or less spelled the end of his inter county career. He announced his retirement on 6 March 2013.
Cusack has also lined out with Munster in the inter-provincial hurling competition. He first played for his province in the semi-final of the competition in 1999, however, he was replaced by Tipp's Brendan Cummins for the final. In 2000 Cusack came on as a substitute to collect his first Railway Cup medal following a win over Leinster. He came on as a substitute again in 2005 to collect his second Railway Cup title.
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