Why Rock knows it’s time to roll

SOME rocks eventually become precious stones. A few are gems from the start.

Diarmuid O’Sullivan has three All-Ireland medals and a sackful of memories, but he knows it’s time to go.

“I loved coming down the tunnel, out onto the field. It’s a drug. It’s like you’re giving yourself an injection, the light, the supporters…

“I’ve given 12 years to the full-back line, and any fella will tell you about the pressure. Take Brian Murphy — the pressure that man was under was incredible, marking the top dog every day, and if Eoin Kelly or John Mullane gets a goal, he’s castigated.

“I’ve always believed in my own abilities going out on the field, that I could do a job. Even on the poor days I still believed that.”

The pressure comes in different forms.

“There are journalists but there are also what I call ‘computer hurlers’, fellas on websites criticising people. Their opinion doesn’t matter, and never has, but your family has that, they have to listen to radio stations reading out texts.

“I’d have felt a lot of hurt about that, but I’m a big boy, I can handle that.”

There was hurt last year. He nearly walked away after the Clare game but he stayed on for one last stand against Kilkenny.

“I had one thing on my mind for that game — my own performance. I know there were images of me crying and so on, that I’d retired — I had no decision made at that stage, I was just glad the season was over.

“The whole thing, the pressure — it was just relief that it was over. It was almost physical. Only for a couple of my close games I probably would have walked away after the Clare game, the criticism was so personal.

“That’s just how it is. In the last few weeks, for instance, I’ve met people who were criticising me all last season, yet they’ve been saying ‘when are you coming back’!”

He remembers the friends — Cork team trainer Jerry Wallace (“The work he put into me was nobody’s business”), his employers Lagans, his new mates in Highfield RFC (“They’ve been outstanding, I’m sorry I didn’t do it years ago”).

And his teammates. He e-mailed them yesterday with a simple message: they’d done it all, all together.

O’Sullivan is aware of how Cork are perceived after not one, but two
winters of discontent.

“People will always have their own opinions. Mistakes were made on all sides, and everybody would admit that — on all sides. Since 2002 people have built a persona up about this Cork team that they’re a law unto themselves. That’s not true.

“It’s always been about getting better. Teams prepare to give a performance, but it’s different in Cork, it’s different in Kilkenny. You’re preparing to win because you want to win. That’s what it has always been about, wanting to get to the top of the ladder.”

Having his father Jerry as Cork County Board chairman was another complication. “That was extremely difficult, but only once was it drawn into the gutter, by a certain man who got a phone call.

“My relationship with him has never been anything but unbelievable. He’d be the first person I’d talk to, for instance with this decision.

“Your family is your family. I’m
finished with intercounty hurling now, he’ll step down as county board chairman in a couple of years, he’ll look to new things and so will I. That’s part of life.”

O’Sullivan knows the rumour mill won’t be long cranking up, so he puts his retirement into an exact context.

“I said to (Cork manager) Denis Walsh a few weeks ago I wasn’t
interested in playing in the full-back line but felt I might have something to offer elsewhere on the field, we had a conversation about it.

“I went away, trained with Cloyne for a few weeks and when I spoke to him again he said they’d reviewed it and they’d decided to move on with the younger fellas.

“That’s fair enough, I knew that was the chance I was taking, and best of luck to them. Talking to the players, they’re very happy with him, and I even said to Denis on the phone today, ‘If you get these guys going in the right direction you will have the 30 most committed lads you’ll ever come across; this team can be very good for you and you can be very good for this team’. I think they can be an unbelievable combination.”

Good times? O’Sullivan and Cusack were strolling through Thurles after a game last year when a car pulled up and a voice echoed from within: “I didn’t see the two of ye since I carried you around Thurles.” It was Paul Shelley, reliving the 2000 Munster final. Other notables? The big man is generous.

“Colin Lynch has carried that Clare team for eight years on his own, since Daly and McMahon stepped down. Unbelievable. That’s a man I’d respect.

“Joe Canning — I consider myself a strong man but he just pushed me to one side last year and finished.

“The first player I’d buy for Cork if there was a transfer market would be Mullane. His commitment to Waterford in last year’s All-Ireland final (was) incredible. And a good man to talk out on the field, too.

“Shefflin has been incredible, too. What has he scored in the championship? He’s big, he’s physical, he can look after himself. Comerford, incredibly talented. Offaly, some of the best hurlers you’d meet in John Troy, the Dooleys. That’s the quality you’re up against.”

A last question about the good days gets an emphatic response.

“Highs? It’s a high every day you play for Cork. I have no regrets when it comes to hurling. None. You’re in that Cork jersey, you’re bulletproof.”

A champ and community hero

WHEN was the last time a world boxing champion did your washing up?

This column spent yesterday
morning with Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan, AFO world champ at light-middleweight, as he prepared for a bout tomorrow night in Cork against
former Polish middleweight champion Marcin Piatkowski.

O’Sullivan came to the attention of boxing cognoscenti when he was brought to the States to fatten Robert Harris’s record. After O’Sullivan had cracked a couple of Harris’s ribs to win in the first round, things changed.

He stayed on to train on the east coast, but not in just any old gym. The Corkman fetched up in Petronelli’s Gym in Brockton, Massachusetts. If you’re a fight fan of a certain vintage, you’ll associate Brockton and Petronelli’s with Marvin Hagler; it’s where he learned how to become Marvellous.

If you’re a fight fan of an even more certain vintage you’ll remember the Brockton Blockbuster himself, Rocco Marchegiano, or Rocky Marciano.

It was a dream come true for O’Sullivan to fight out of Brockton; his father Denis was a Marciano fan, and his mother Jacinta was a Hagler fan, but apart from the romance, there was reality. Petronelli’s is a finishing school for champions, and as O’Sullivan puts it, what he learned there he wouldn’t have been able to learn anywhere else.

When he came back to Leeside armed with his Brockton education, he was big box office, packing out Neptune Stadium with 2,500 supporters. When he fought in Boston he wasn’t short of support either, with plenty of Cork accents in the crowd. One of his pals lost his job when he told his boss he’d be heading to America to support Spike; when the pal returned and found another job, a similar dilemma arose for the next bout.

Another job lost. It’s all going O’Sullivan’s way: down the line he aims to go from light-middleweight to middleweight proper.

Tomorrow night’s bout is at a catch weight between light-middle and
middle, and good preparation for the step up.

The fight tomorrow night will also be broadcast live on the web by gofightlive.com, an internet company which has covered O’Sullivan’s previous fights. The medium-term plan is a world title shot; as a professional sportsman doing what he loves for a living, O’Sullivan puts his cards on the table: “I’m living the dream.”

THAT’S only half Spike’s story. He still lives in his home place, Mahon, a southside suburb of Cork that doesn’t always attract favourable media coverage, but he’s proud of where he comes from.

His sponsors — Conal’s Tree
Services and Wiser Bins — are local concerns, his two little girls Jacinta and Katie live there, as do his parents, and he’s been trying to give something back to the community.

He’s put a gymnasium together with his own hands, where he runs exercise classes for the locals, and the Lough Mahon Boxing Club, which has already sent out All-Ireland champions.

The likes of John and Peter Keane, James and John McDonagh and
Kathleen O’Reilly are the heroes of the future. More initiates in the
rigorous discipline of boxing. More potential role models.

O’Sullivan also gives something back by offering kids in the neighbourhood a good example, say community activists.

He’s a regular visitor to the Mahon Community Centre; when we walked in yesterday morning the
welcome from the ladies running the coffee shop was warm and genuine, and that’s where he did the washing up, rinsing out our cups.

“They’re unbelievable supporters,” says O’Sullivan. “When I fought in Dublin they booked out the whole Red Cow Hotel to follow me. They’re fantastic.”

O’Sullivan visited local schools
recently with his world championship belt and Denis Coffey, manager of the Mahon Community Centre, says the entire community got a boost.

“If I can show people what you can do with hard work and application, then great,” says the boxer.

There’s living the dream. And then there’s living the reality.

Contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

Joe Deane retirement

May 28, 2009

Deane: I just
felt the time
was right to walk away

SIGNS and omens. When Joe Deane was rooting through his garden shed last week he found his old calling card: the battered yellow helmet that identified him from a thousand yards on the big championship days.

If you like symbolism, the helmet was strung with cobwebs, a perfect echo of the Killeagh man’s decision to retire from inter-county hurling.

“I had my reservations at the start of last year, I was struggling for a bit of form and so on but I spoke to (then Cork manager) Gerald (McCarthy) and decided to give it a lash for the year.

“As the year turned out we had a couple of good performances but by the time of the Kilkenny game I had my mind more or less made up.

“I just felt the time was right. There was no reason in particular, the time was just right.”

For good performances read last year’s racing finish over Galway, when Deane rolled back the years with four points: “We looked dead and buried, Donal Óg had been sent off, we were facing the breeze with 14 men . . . the buzz afterwards was incredible. An All-Ireland title wasn’t at stake, but it was still one of the good days.”

The first All-Ireland, back in 1999, was also memorable, given the Killeagh connection.

“That was probably the high point. Mark (Landers) was captain and Bernard Rochford was also on the panel, so when we went back to
Killeagh afterwards it was fantastic. Definitely that was the highlight.”

True to form, Deane omits to
mention his game-winning free 10 years ago in that All-Ireland final. In the decade since he’s seen changes in hurling.

“When I started with Cork you went out and you hurled and then you went home, essentially. You got the ball and moved it as quickly as possible.

“As time went on, and with Donal O’Grady, things became more tactical, there was more video analysis. We’d have spoken more about how we’d have played compared to before, but that was true of all counties, not just us: you concentrated on your own game and that was about it.”

They had to concentrate on other issues from time to time. Deane was a central figure in the three Cork player strikes of the last few years, which he describes as draining.

“I don’t think the general public would be aware what goes into it. We’d be very organised, which would probably come across in the media, but that doesn’t come without putting the time in, meeting until maybe one or two in the morning.

“The strike that’s just gone seemed to drag on forever. In 2002 it was done and dusted before Christmas, and the fact that the last one dragged on so long, it drains you. It would certainly have taken a lot out of the lads.”

He’s cognisant of how those stand-offs have coloured people’s view of the players. “You’d be aware of it, you’d get that sense, but that’s the way it is. The fellas involved in those teams stood up for what they believed in and did that not only to better the current set-up in Cork, but also for future generations of players.

“In time those people may look back on it and think it was the right thing to do. Looking at it now, I still think it was the right thing to do.
Everything that happened, happened for a reason and we asked ourselves: was it the right thing to do, could we stand over it?

“On each occasion we felt we could stand over it. The way we’re viewed
. . . that’s up to other people. You’ll always have supporters and knockers. That’s life.”

Now life has a different set of priorities, which don’t include inter-county hurling. Is retirement a relief?

“There’s a certain amount of pressure taken off your shoulders. Any
inter-county player will tell you that the first thing to mind on a Monday morning is: what am I doing this week and how will it improve me as a player? Obviously I’ll be putting in as much of an effort into Killeagh as I can, but inter-county players are
public property.

“I wouldn’t have enjoyed the
limelight side of things, but I never minded people coming up to chat or anything. I always found that a
compliment and I wouldn’t refuse an autograph or anything, there’s so many genuine people out there.

“I’d like to thank all the Cork supporters. I always had a good rapport with them.”

Deane is a Killeagh minor selector and is looking forward to giving something back to the club, even if management isn’t on the horizon at present (“No, coaching would be more interesting to me than managing because you’re involved in training rather than having to organise things on a wide scale”).

Then there’s May 31st. For the first time since 1996 he’ll be a Munster SHC spectator rather than a participant. “I’ll drive up with the lads from Killeagh, I’ll fit back into the normal way of going to matches. If it’s half as much craic as I’ve imagined it to be it should be good, even though it won’t match being out on the field. Nothing matches that, the buzz of going out on the field. Of getting a score. Of winning a match.”

In-tray full of challenges for new man Cooney

THE men in the wine-red club jumpers looked happy as they walked around the Rochestown Park Hotel in Cork on Saturday, and with good reason.

One of their fellow Youghal club men was being installed as GAA President, a proud day for Christy Cooney, his family, and his club. The blizzard of motions and debates, meetings and briefings, built to a climax on Saturday afternoon, when Cooney was finally inaugurated as Uachtaran. (We say inaugurated — ‘elevated’ seemed to be the term in general use at the GAA Congress last Friday and Saturday.)

The weekend, with its large media presence, live streaming on the RTÉ website, was an opportunity for the bureaucrats who run the GAA to emerge into the daylight, and a timely reminder of the painstaking work that goes on in unglamorous committee meetings not just in the GAA, but in all sports.

It’s probably fair to say that no little boy or girl goes to sleep dreaming of chairing a rules task force or introducing motions on the suspension appropriate to playing overage players, but selfless administrators are the life-blood of every organisation, sporting or not. Correction: selfless capable administrators. There are plenty of challenges facing the new man at the helm of the GAA, as evidenced, for instance, by the last major speech of his predecessor, outgoing President Nickey Brennan.

Brennan criticised the GPA for a failure to engage with the efforts of the GAA to grant it recognition.

While the player representative body will no doubt have its own response on that issue, the last thing Christy Cooney will want is to begin his tenure in a tit-for-tat public slanging match; still, the man at the big desk gets to face all sorts of headaches.

And there are other migraines facing the GAA. The defeat of the new yellow-card rules on Saturday led to much head-shaking and frowning from the top table, but that also points to a wider problem for them.

The likes of Nickey Brennan were right to detect in the narrow defeat an appetite for change when it comes to discipline in Gaelic football and hurling, but there was a clear disconnect, to use that non-grammatical but apt word, between what people saw as over-severe sanctions and what the GAA hierarchy saw as appropriate.

That appetite for change and for improvement in discipline is widespread within the GAA. People aren’t blind to the cynicism on offer from some of the leading counties on the field of play. The appetite for punishing players with expulsion for conditioned reflexes engendered by generations of coaches seems a little less avid.

What the new President might also focus on — in the light of the commitment in his inauguration speech on improving communication within the GAA — was avoiding situations like that in Limerick last week, where some clubs felt that the county board stance on those new rules was at variance with the decision taken at the county board meeting which dealt with the matter.

Nickey Brennan’s wider point was far more apt — he said that unless discipline and respect were improved at all levels of the game then the rules could be changed at will, but there would be no improvement.

That’s another large envelope in the Christy Cooney in-tray.

The new man listed several areas he’d be focusing on in his term, such as developing the GAA in urban areas, player welfare and focusing on volunteers, but there’s no doubt that the greatest challenge he and his organisation now face is the global recession.

The new President closed his speech with an appeal to all GAA members to row in together for the good of the organisation. He got a good reception from the delegates, the dignitaries, and the men in the wine-red club jumpers.

Michael Moynihan

A little birdie told me: sport’s Twitter

TWEET ON, brother.

This column is a long-time
veteran now of the Twitter phenomenon, if long-time can be translated as a couple of months. Twitter recently hit the headlines, of course, as the engine of revolution in Moldova.

This follows on the heels of the ‘griots’, which was the Twitter tag used to help organise youth riots in Greece.

(Frankly, if you need to know what a Twitter tag is, you’re already obsolete.

I know whereof I speak, having only found out myself about 30
seconds ago).

However, the wonderful world of sports twittering has already gone far beyond critical mass and has now become something of a black hole, if one can squeeze every last drop from the astronomy metaphors.

Shaquille O’Neal recently posted a brief message, apparently from half-time in an NBA game between his Phoenix Suns and the Washington.

To be honest, it wouldn’t have been mistaken for Abraham
Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: Shaq’s message to the world was: Shhhhhhh.

However, Shaq’s message to his comrades was an important one for this scribe, because yours truly is one of Shaq’s followers.

For those of you who are not aware of how Twitter actually works, you sign on as somebody’s follower, the general idea being that that person then becomes one of your followers.

Your humble columnist, for instance, has six followers, most of whom are either close family relations or creditors.

Shaq, on the other hand, has 571,959, following his mission statement, which is to perform random acts of Shaqness.

So far one can only say mission accomplished, though O’Neal’s
refusal to become one of my followers is duly noted.

The general attraction of following someone on Twitter is to gain some kind of insight into their lives, presumably.

That’s not always as interesting as you might think — Shaq’s latest missive as of yesterday was “Should I go see elvis, I’m in memphis, you aint nuttin but a hound dog, ridin around town Dun nun daa” — but the odd nugget slips through.

For instance, the basketball
star posted earlier in the week that he was “looking for you, Mark Cuban” or “looking foor u” to give the phrase its full Shaqness — a revelation likely to cause some debate in the US.

(Mark Cuban is the owner of rival NBA team the Dallas Mavericks, by the way. And a man given to Twittering a bit himself).

It’s not as if O’Neal is the only athlete to use Twitter, however. Lance Armstrong appears to be
addicted to keeping all and sundry aware of his every move: a March 24 post described how hard it was to tweet left-handed, the reason being Armstrong was waiting to have a broken collarbone repaired.

It gets better — Armstrong tweeted before he went into surgery and uploaded a picture of himself (http://twitpic.com/2fewc), presumably to prove he was facing the knife and not heading to
Blockbuster for the Sopranos Season One and a bucket of ice cream.

(To put you out of your agony, Lance got 12 screws put in the fracture; one of his friends uploaded the details…)

Anyway: Lance is another one of this column’s followees (is it followed ones?

Or would innocent targets be a more accurate description?), and his tweets can be fascinating about his eating habits (“Campo de Fiori in Aspen” is a good bet).

The Twitter appeal for high-profile sportspeople is obvious — they don’t have to have their comments filtered and they can say whatever they like on any subject they choose.

The fact that only need 140 characters are available in which to spell out their message to the world is another bonus.

For that reason you have to love Twitter, and for the record, Shaq, I think you SHOULD go to see Elvis.

Just remember who gave you that advice.

contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

Twitter handle: Knockrea

But don’t feel you have to follow me.