Donal Óg Cusack: It's all about moving forward for Cork hurling

Donal Óg Cusack: It's all about moving forward for Cork hurling

Donal Óg takes on John Mullane and Seamus Prendergast. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

THE Cork hurling faithful were hoping for some fresh voices to restore the county's fortunes and they certainly got that with the appointment of Donal Óg Cusack as minor boss.

He was a left-field choice in that Jamie Wall and Jimmy Barry Murphy were the prime contenders for the job, while Cusack was touted as senior boss. Yet when the opportunity arose last weekend, he jumped at it. He's excited by the prospect of being involved it was should be a new dawn for Cork hurling, with Aidan O'Connell recruited from Munster Rugby as a High-Performance Manager and a clean slate of manager from U16 up.

"I had two motivations, wanting to give to Cork but wanting to make a difference as well. When I met the board they would have outlined their vision and Aidan O'Connell's role. Culture needs to constantly change and with the setting up of that unit will bring more and more individuals in to support.

"Any player of my generation or anyone I meet from a Cork point of view, all that ever exists is that we're happy to give. Cork is a big part of us. It's who we are. 

"I always said when I was involved with Cloyne, in the thick of Cloyne, that I had two clubs: Cork and Cloyne. I could never distinguish between either if you give them the respect they deserve.

Hurricane Lorenzo is heading towards Ireland this week but Cusack has often been in the eye of storm, from the first hurling strike in 2002 and beyond.

Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Four delegates questioned his appointment at Tuesday's Cork County Board meeting, but the general reaction has been positive to his move from Sunday Game pundit to Rebel manager. The 42-year-old is mature enough to keeping driving on.

"You need to be clear in your own mind about your motivation. Criticism is always there. Anyone with any bit of a public profile has that. I often say to other people not to get caught up in it. I always try to look forward but hopefully learn from the past too. It's the same as being a player, you make loads of mistakes as a player but you try to learn from those and get better."

Given he only has a one-year term at the helm, with Noel Furlong and his backroom moving up from U16 in 2021, the hurlers on the ditch could be out on force next summer if results are poor.

"When you start out playing it's there. When you become a Cork player there's more focus on you and it's been part and parcel of my life for as long as I can remember. I didn't have any formal roles in the last number of years but anytime anyone asked me to help I'd be there straight away. Being on the frontline doesn't bother me.

"This is where my focus and my energy is going in terms of the one year and we'll see where it takes us from there. I'm always happy to help and give to Cork."

Though the rest of his management team has to be finalised, Donal Óg has two of his most trusted comrades by his side: Tom Kenny and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín.

"I was delighted that the two lads agreed. I played with them all my life. It is a help that young lads can see the people who have done it before. There are very few people that would meet either of them and not walk away thinking what impressive people they are. As players, athletes, sportspeople they were role models.

"Seán Óg was a hero to me growing up even. I can remember being inside here all hours of the day and night training with Seán Óg, Christmas Eve... training with Seán Óg. I always looked at him as a hero. I think they'll both have a hugely positive influence on the young lads.

"We will be bringing in more to the management group, specifically those with a direct knowledge of the territory and the age groups."

The former All-Star keeper has built coaching experience with the Clare seniors and his club's minors, who defeated Darragh Fitzgibbon's Charleville in a Premier 2 decider in 2015.

Picture: David Keane
Picture: David Keane

"There's an attraction to the grass. There's something real in that. We're all many things but one them for me is I'm a hurler, that's my passion.

"I was down coaching a Dean Ryan team in Midleton CBS a couple of weeks ago and my style is questioning, not directing. They know the answers and you just want to get it out of them. The players did the whole strategic approach for the game themselves.

"I think the generations are being more intelligent and developing a greater capacity for that. My view on coaching is you're pulling the answers out of the players."

Given minors are U16 and U17, he knows a holistic approach will be vital, marrying the quest for silverware and personal development.  

"Everybody is different. If you're leading or managing people it's about understanding the person and the buttons that you can turn into positives.

"It's not senior. Winning is important and I think you weave both into each other. Part of your development as an athlete and a competitor is learning about what winning means, how you train and how you play. I don't think they're mutually exclusive.

"It's about getting the best out of players but it's really about developing them as athletes, as people, as winners for the role goal which is that Cork senior jersey. There's a difference between a Cork senior jersey and a Cork U20 jersey and a minor jersey."

He believes the effort being put in at club and school level is commendable, and Donal Óg still cherishes the Harty Cup he won in Midleton CBS alongside Joe Deane and Diarmuid O'Sullivan.

"There's great work going in and the signs are very positive. The schools are critical. The Harty is always a step above when you're talking underage. 

"The Harty medal is still one of the most prized possessions you could have. 

"There's a high standard. It's an opportunity for 'virtual Centres of Excellence' in terms of those schools dotted around the place and that's why we all like the idea of Christians putting such a focus on hurling."

Cusack was outspoken in his defence of sweepers and modern systems on The Sunday Game, but insists he isn't set on any particular style.

"I'm an open book. Whatever is best for the teams is best for me. People like to pigeonhole you but I can guarantee I've no set belief about how the game should be played."

There's a perception, justified, that Cork aren't defensively or physically tough enough.

"I wouldn't be able to do that discussion justice now. It's multidimensional. We have catching up to do, that's apparent because the results speak for themselves."

With the new structures in place, Cork can set the tone in 2020 and beyond.

"The joined-up thinking, the 'high performance' aspect involving Aidan O'Connell's role is a unit, it's not just one person. All of that is really exciting and it's about us maximising our resources in a strategic and focused manner to get Cork back to where we all want them to be.

"You need to be constantly changing from a performance point of view, high-calibre people, with time. For me it's always about getting the best people on to the bus and it'll be driven in one direction.

"It's a sign we're moving on but Cork needs to be constantly moving on, looking forward."

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