Pioneer: Former Cork hurling star Donal Óg Cusack
“BE who you are, and love will trump everything else”.
That’s the advice of former Cork hurling goalkeeper Donal Óg Cusack, who made history when he became the first – and so far only – male GAA player to declare he is gay.
The RTE pundit was speaking at a special wellness event held in Na Piarsaigh’s clubhouse at Elm Drive in Caherdavin this week.
Addressing an audience made up of mostly members of Na Piarsaigh’s county-winning panel, Donal also urged younger players to be careful with their use of language.
Recalling one incident where a younger Cork player referred to a situation as ‘gay’, he said he had to have a word with him, even though the player immediately realised what he had said.
“I told him, I’m okay, I’m resilient. But don’t underestimate that you are playing for Cork, people in your club look up to you. Don’t underestimate the impact that could have on another player,” the former All-Star said, “There are some people I know and it’s the biggest thing on their mind, they are carrying it around with them every day.”
Donal recalled the brave steps he had taken to come out as gay, something he did with the release of his autobiography ‘Come what may’ a decade ago.
”I knew I was a gay man since I was very young, 13 or 14. I remember having a crush inside in class on one of the other lads. I never felt the need to come out and talk to the whole world about it,” he said.
His parents only found out once rumours started circulating while Cork’s players were on a team holiday – he returned early from Spain to discuss the matter with his mother and father, who eventually accepted him for who he is.
“I always felt I was a person, a goalkeeper, a hurler who happened to be gay, not the other way around. I felt the best thing I could do – and I am of the rebellious spirit – was to fight the cause and keep doing what I was doing, and be the best player I could be,” Donal told the audience.
Talking is the best thing clubmates can do, he added.
“I had some of the best conversations with people when I was opening up to them. I couldn’t believe that I didn’t know about their lives.
“There were situations when I opened up to friends and teammates and they told me things they wanted to get off their chest, and that created bonds which last forever,” he added.
Since 2009, Donal admits there have only been a handful of difficult moments regarding his sexuality – including one in the Semple Stadium, where a man shouted a homophobic slur down a megaphone while the ground was silent during a free-taking.
The first person he thought of was his father back home in Cloyne.
“But I knew enough about life to think f**k this fella. I’m living my dream playing for Cork, and I’m not going to let him get inside my head,” he concluded.