All men have secrets and here is Donal Óg Cusack's, so let it be known. He doesn't like Kilkenny, he's had it in for them since the 2002 National League final and he reckons they're the sport's equivalent of the Stepford Wives. To most hurling folk, therein lay the real meat of last week's autobiographical revelations. Oh, and he might own one or two more Liza Minnelli albums than the rest of us, but that had been the most public of unuttered public secrets beforehand. What difference does it make?
Listen, this is a man who screwed his courage to the sticking place, stormed the battlements, took on Frank Murphy and his minions in their own fortress and routed them. Twice. After ending the Cork county board's decades-long undefeated run, coming out to the nation surely amounted to little more than a medium-sized piece of cáca milis.
Look at all the firsts he accounted for in the process. The first prominent hurler to come out publicly. The first GAA player to do so. The first Irish sportsman of note to do so. The first practising sportsman in the northern hemisphere since Justin Fashanu 19 years ago to do so. It would have to be a Corkman, wouldn't it?
When the Tribune listed its 125 most influential people in GAA history last January we ranked Cusack as the 57th. Update it in five years' time and he'll be in the top 20, perhaps the top 10. Even within the space of seven days he's already engineered a small change in the semantics surrounding sexuality. On Sunday, Aertel greeted his announcement with the headline, "Cusack admits he's gay." By Tuesday it had been amended to the less pejorative "reveals he's gay". A declaration of homosexuality does not equate to an "admission" of homosexuality.
For it to be Cusack who boldly went where none had gone before him is no surprise. "Moderation," he declares in the book, "is for the bland, the apologetic, for the fence-sitters of the world, afraid to take a stand." With him there are no half-measures. It is everything or nothing.
Had he fought on the Western Front nine decades ago he'd have been the first man over the top the moment the barrage stopped and the whistle shrilled. (And would have taken his company with him into the mouth of the enemy machine guns, many people in Cork will add sourly. But let that lie.)
That he is now a role model for young gay men is undeniable. That there couldn't be a more determined, more articulate, more grown-up role model is equally so. Not some dreary young drag queen. Not whatever amiable nobody emerged from that I-use-the-term-laughingly "talent contest" to sashay into a glittering new career with the Xposé pop tartlets. It was apt that Cusack revealed his sexuality the day after the world said goodbye Stephen Gately, a perfectly decent, sweet and inoffensive young man at whose funeral one of the offertory gifts was a bottle of moisturiser.
Gifted, successful and attractive, Sligo-born Dearbhla Walsh, the Emmy-winning director of Little Dorrit, represents everything a young gay woman might aspire to. Donal Óg Cusack, a similar high achiever in an adult world, may just be Walsh's male equivalent. What's more, he could if he so wishes become a powerful voice for the gay community on certain issues in future. And if he doesn't wish it, that will be his prerogative. Cusack is a hurler who happens to be gay as much as he's a gay person who happens to hurl.
So the sky didn't fall in this past week, just as the roof of Citywest will not collapse if Cusack ever brings a fella with him to the All Stars. Did anyone seriously anticipate otherwise? If there's one encouraging discovery we've made about ourselves as a nation these last few years it's that in some respects we're more mature about sex and sexuality than we might have imagined. Do all that many people really care about what others are getting up to in the bedroom provided they don't make a song and dance about it?
Exhibit A: the opening last year of a lapdancing club near this writer's domicile sparked fear, loathing and public protests. When the venture closed due to lack of interest and reopened as a gay bar, nobody took a blind bit of notice. As long as they don't do it in the streets and frighten the horses, etc. Anyway, there are enough GAA folk of a certain age out there with gay sons or daughters, nieces or nephews – whether they know it, or choose to know it, or not – for finger-pointing to represent an uncomfortable exercise.
Two years ago John Amaechi, formerly of the Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz, came out in his autobiography following retirement. All was well that ended well for Amaechi; having feared "the wrath of a nation" on making his announcement, he was forced to admit a few months later that he had "underestimated America". There's always one, naturally, in this case the commentator and former player Tim Hardaway. "I wouldn't want him on my team," quoth Hardaway. "If he was I'd really distance myself from him because I don't think that's right and I don't think he should be in the locker room when we're in the locker room."
One cannot imagine the inhabitants of the Cork and Cloyne dressing rooms being quite so precious, and not merely on the grounds that none of them is likely to be mistaken for George Clooney any day soon. Any individual seen running for the far end of the room will be doing so in response to Cusack claiming that they're not training hard enough and suggesting a 4am start for their next session, not out of some adolescent imperative to keep his back to the wall for fear of homosexual wiles. Are hurlers that vain as to reckon a teammate fancies them? Scarcely.
The issue of the abuse he can expect from opponents is a different matter. Verbals can be as vicious issuing from the field of play as from the terraces. The 1990s may have seen a low water mark in this regard, with players abused by opponents over their colour (Seán Óg Ó hAilpín), failed marriages (Davy Fitzgerald), the suicide of a sibling ("Nice day for a hanging…") and alleged Traveller antecedents ("Go home, the caravan's on fire!"). In the event of hearing Cusack being called a big gay f**ker, or whatever, by the opposition full-forward, will referees book yer man for using "abusive or provocative language" under Rule 5.17 or will they turn a deaf ear? No less relevantly, what will the reader do if standing at a match next year alongside some troglodyte calling Cusack a big gay f**ker? Sometimes all it takes for ignorance to flourish is for right-thinking people to say nothing.
On that point, it is heartening to discover from Come What May that the Semplegate fracas two years ago wasn't sparked by a homophobic slur by a Clare player after all, and it is to Cusack's credit that he now deplores the silly, self-indulgent statement bemoaning their hard lot released by him, Diarmuid O'Sullivan and Ó hAilpín following their suspension.
But he doth protest too much about Kilkenny's lack of support for the GPA in 2002 and thereafter. It wasn't up to Kilkenny, or anyone else, to march in lockstep with Cork in their struggle with the county board; that was their battle and their battle alone. And the "Stepford Wives" jibe, taken in conjunction with the "Our world/their world" episode about Waterford in Brian Corcoran's autobiography, implies an attitude towards opponents that is both disquieting and, in view of the Cork panel's constant preaching of the gospel of respect, surprising. The depiction of Frank Murphy as a far more warm and engaging person than the Dark Lord of stereotype, however, suggests Cusack has discovered that the spectrum contains shades of grey between the black and the white.
May Donal Óg live as happy and fulfilled a life as a person can. And no harm if along the way he discovers that moderation doesn't always have to be a sign of weakness.
'Come What May – The Autobiography' is published by Penguin Ireland