Donal Óg Cusack: 'The game needs heroes, it needs characters'
By John Harrington
Donal Óg Cusack says the GAA as a collective community needs to come together and figure out a way to better market our national games.
The former Cork hurler and current Clare senior hurling team coach believes the culture that exists in the GAA of keeping players away from the media spotlight is a damaging one, and that a more open approach at all levels should be encouraged.
“One of the biggest problems that the GAA has is selling our games,” said Cusack today at an event to promote the Electric Ireland Minor Star Awards.
“I think that it's a big challenge for the game. We're not as wise as we should be to the need to sell our games.
“Even being a player myself, I could have be accused of that. I had a bit of a Road to Damascus journey.
“Inter-county now is like North Korea. I'm a bit embarrassed in terms of how secret it is. But, (unlike North Korea), if we had a successful missile launch, we'd do our best to cover it up.
“I definitely think that we need to go out there and sell our games. I was listening to the news on RTÉ One a couple of weeks and Des Cahill, who's a good GAA guy, read out the news.
“There was no mention of the GAA. I sent him a text afterwards and I said, 'It was a big GAA weekend...Why was there no [GAA]?' He never came back to me, but, you know, he knew where I was coming from.
“The next news that I saw was on RTE and the heading was 'Lions'. Whatever the Lions is and whatever that means, best of luck to them. The Lions were beaten, Ireland were playing Japan - that's a challenge game that they were playing out in Japan.
“The next headline was that 'Scotland shock Australia' - no mention of GAA. I said to myself, whatever about the Lions, whatever about what that is, whatever about Ireland playing a challenge game in Japan, I don't a f**k if Scotland are after shocking Australia in a challenge game! Where's the GAA coverage?
“I think it's something that us, as a GAA community, need to get better at. I think social media's done a great job in terms of exposing that avenue.
"I hear the whole Sky debate. To me, we're a bit bi-polar. We've no problem paying to watch the Lions.
“I think it's a good thing. I worked for RTE and RTE are very important to the coverage of our games but I would have said this when I was working for them, I thought the Sky deal made absolute sense.
“You need to have competition in the market. It's wasn't as if every GAA game was on RTE because it wasn't. Those are the facts of the matter.”
When Cusack was Cork captain he admits one of his most difficult jobs was to get team-mates to fulfil media duties in the run-up to matches.
“Lads would say to me, 'why do I want to do it?' Fellas were worried that you'd say something and it would be carried in a certain way and I think you guys (journalists) bear a responsibility for that as well because I've seen it in my own career, you say a certain length of things in two different aspects, when you add this one and this one, the output is totally different…I think that spooks players.”
The attitude of some inter-county managers seems to be there’s nothing to gain from allowing their players speak to the media, whereas there’s a risk it might prove to be a distraction, so they remove it as a variable as much as they possibly can in the run-up to games.
“I can understand that fully,” says Cusack. “It's the way that we're wired in the GAA but it needs more of a collective discussion. The Gaelic Players Association need to be involved in it, the GAA.
“In my view, hurling is as much of an expression of being an Irish person as any other. We've got our song, we've got no problem exporting that.
“We're famous for exporting our dance and showing it off. We're famous for our poetry. All those arts, hurling fits into that. It's something that should celebrated.
“When I was a pundit, if I'd a choice if I was going to blow the game up or put the game down, I'd always err on the side of it (blow it up). I don't think that's common though.
"I've no problem saying that. I do think that especially when I was in RTÉ, some of the football pundits would, like I remember the first time I went up there, I mirrored just to see what was happening.
“I remember thinking, there's actually beauty in some of the Gaelic football that's going on there but it appears to me as if a lot of the tone within some of the football pundits is to ensure that they put those guys down to make themselves look better. I think we just need to have a collective look at the whole thing.”
Cusack believes that shielding players from the media has had the effect of making them less accessible and recognisable to the supporters who follow them.
“It's a shame. It's a huge issue for hurling. I know there was a lot of guys gave us stick for the Super 11's a couple of years ago, but I was making the point that you can go in to some parts of Ireland and they will tell you about everything about every game of hurling.
“But they could be sitting next to the guy that they're talking about. They just wouldn't know them. The game needs characters and I would throw it out there that if you're looking at big characters in the GAA, call them out to me?
“The game needs heroes, it needs characters.
“I would encourage guys to be smart. I would say if you think this is good for your profile, go out and give it the absolute most out of it.
“I would encourage lads that there's nothing to be afraid of but also would understand fully the argument, and it's a valid point to make, that 'I don't want to do it'.