By John Fogarty
Ernest Hemingway’s 'For Whom The Bell Tolls' gave a graphic insight into civil war. Now, after three bruising battles with his county board and a career from which he gleaned three of the most decorated medals, it appears Dónal Óg Cusack has heard its chime for the last time.
It shouldn’t have been this way. Just like Seán Óg Ó hAilpín in 2011, Cusack leaves not of his own accord with still plenty to offer the Cork jersey.
Although he hasn’t retired yet and Jimmy Barry-Murphy maintains the panel remains open-ended, the epitaphs are being written with confidence.
Plenty will say Cusack had died, having lived, by the sword. That argument doesn’t wash when he was never given the chance in the first place to fight for his position in the panel this year.
Twitter has it limits and Eoin Cadogan should have used more than one tweet to fully articulate why he felt Cusack’s omission was strange.
The dual player, who has now turned his hand solely to the footballers this season, was criticised for his remarks in some quarters given he left the panel a few weeks ago.
Irrespective of that, he had a point – why would a player and a leader of Cusack's ilk be jettisoned after completing a brutal nine months of recovery without getting the opportunity to prove his worth in competitive action?
More to the point, how could a player, who was regarded so highly by management last year that he was invested with the captaincy last year, suffer such an accelerated demotion?
Cusack grinded to get where he is today after rupturing his Achilles heel in that Division 1A semi-final against Tipperary in Thurles last April.
Any of his 14,000-plus followers would have seen him keep a regular, often weekly, photographic diary of the work he had put in to get back to full fitness.
Whether it was in the archaic Páirc Uí Chaoimh gym or running around the tunnel perimeter of the stadium, he was strenuously preparing off-Broadway to perform once again.
By process of deduction, it would appear it wasn’t for specifically hurling reasons Cusack was informed his services weren’t required for the league.
Not one to shy away from giving his opinion, had Barry-Murphy felt he was an unwelcome influence in the camp?
The manager, in time, will need to explain this, especially as it is strongly reported the majority of selectors wanted Cusack to remain in the panel.
This blog makes no secret of the major differences it has had with Cusack over the years. We might have agreed with many of the arguments put forward by the hurlers during the strikes but some of the means didn’t justify the ends.
Through it all, though, we never lost sight of the remarkable sportsman he is. His book and his columns on the GAA website last year gave great insight into the competitor he is.
A most endearing quality but seemingly not now for Barry-Murphy. Plenty will undoubtedly disagree but when he was reappointed as manager this writer saw him as a hangman, a, if you will, murderer with a smile.
Like he had done in the late 1990s, he was tasking himself with doing away with the dead wood.
The Cork dual legend holds a status in the county similar to Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool FC. Even if it doesn’t work for him as manager, he will still be revered.
Carrying such public support, he isn’t going to get it in the neck for dropping Cusack. The same with Ó hAilpín, whose retirement a few months ago was enforced, and John Gardiner – these men might have won All-Irelands but Barry-Murphy remains the one, true acceptable face of Cork hurling.
But is he cutting off his nose to spite his face? Looking at what Cusack headed up with the GPA in Breezy Point last week (check out the NBC report - nbcnews.to/11S12wc ), you wonder what team could do without such a presence?
As Cork hope to turn what has been quite a lengthy corner, Cusack should be involved not only as a figurehead but as a player.
The very least he merited was a start. In 2011, Davy Fitzgerald gave Ken McGrath, then 33, a midfield berth in a league game against Cork. McGrath was called off just after half-time and retired a couple of days later. The Waterford star had to realise for himself that his time was up.
Cusack, we imagine, would fare better but at least McGrath was able to see it for himself. Yet some observers in recent days have already turned to how the Cork County Board’s poor relationship with Cusack, who turns 36 next month, could deprive him from coaching roles in the future.
The shame is there is still more hurling in the Cloyne man at the top grade. Dare it be said, Kilkenny are one team who wouldn’t mind Cusack the goalkeeper in their ranks given their problems between the sticks last season.
Cusack is believed to have not reacted well last week when Barry-Murphy broke the news to him. That is understandable but he must have had an inkling about the uphill task he faced to at least get back in the team.
At a reception on the GAA-GPA All Stars trip to New York last November, the city’s Irish Consul General Noel Kilkenny said he hoped to see Cusack back in Cork colours soon. Cusack, also a speaker on the evening, returned with a smile: “You’ll have to asked Jimmy Barry-Murphy about that.”
Maybe back then he knew the size of the challenge that awaited him. A month earlier, Anthony Nash had just been made an All Star. He would have been fully aware of just how good Darren McCarthy is shaping up to be.
His time was most definitely coming to an end but to be finished in such a fashion appears on the surface at least to be wholly unfair.