“Sport is a great learning ground for every aspect of life. It teaches you through putting you in testing situations where you have to perform based on what you know and on what you might find yourself to be capable of.”
Donal Óg Cusack has played hurling since he was a boy and has used the lessons learned on the pitch to forge a strong career on and off the field.
He will be sharing some of the secrets of how the lessons of sport can translate into success in other areas of life at a special “Winning in Business” event being hosted by Bord Gáis Energy in Cork tomorrow morning alongside Irish Women’s Rugby Grand Slam winning Captain Fiona Coghlan and perhaps the most iconic sporting song to have emerged from Cork in recent generations Roy Keane.
Not surprisingly the event is a complete sell out but Sport for Business will be there, with a great table of guests including World Champion Olive Loughnane and 16 time All Ireland winner Mary O’Connor, and we will be keeping you up to date with social media from the Clarion Hotel through the morning.
We caught up with Cusack in advance though and time spent in the company of this man will never be wasted. Our timing was perfect, coming off the back of a stunning win for Clare over Kilkenny in the Allianz Hurling league on Saturday.
Cusack took up a role as selector with Davy Fitzgerald at the start of this campaign and that prompted a look at the priorities of a man who leads many lives.
“When I was younger I would have always said Yes to everything and then try find the time to squeeze it in but as you get older you learn to prioritise and this was an opportunity to try something new, with a team of great potential and as part of a set up that is second to none that Davy has built up.”
“I had a wonderful time working in the media with RTE and the Examiner but I couldn’t carry on with all those obligations while holding down a full time job as well.”
“I like being involved, being busy.”
Friends would ask how I find the time but I look at them and they might have a family and be up to their ears in managing what there kids are doing and where they need to be. I don’t have that so I have time and nothing I do feels like a chore. That’s important. Life is short enough that if you get a chance to do something you are good at and enjoy then you should grasp it.”
Cusack has worked for US Multinational Johnson and Johnson in Cork for 15 years, running projects around win energy at their sites that have brought him to a position of respect and influence within the global organisation.
Most importantly he has enjoyed it.
“The one thing that is often overlooked about the big multinational employers we have in Ireland is the education they provide to their employees, and the opportunity they present for us to learn to deliver in many aspects of our lives.”
“The most obvious, but no less important aspect of playing sport and working beyond the pitch is how to operate as part of a team”
“You have to get on with people, learn how to compete alongside others who have different strengths and weaknesses.”
“They put you into testing situations that you have to step up and perform in.”
“Getting comfortable in what might at first be an uncomfortable position is really important as a lesson. It enables you to take on challenges that might at first seem too big but which you can manage by taking the first step and learning with every move.”
That philosophy was very personally made real through Cusack’s powerful campaigning for marriage equality and gay rights. As an elite sports star coming out was never going to be easy but it will have made a difference to others in a similar position. His documentary last year for RTÉ, Coming Out of the Curve was a thoughtful and intelligent analysis of the way being gay was seen and it changed perceptions.
The willingness to take things on was also central to the formation of the Gaelic Players Association in which Cusack was a driving force.
“There was an unbalance that had come about in the game that needed to be addressed.”
“There was more and more money coming into the game through jersey deals, tournament and team sponsorships and television but players had never been asked for their views on what this would mean for them in terms of the extra commitment that is now the norm at inter county level.”
“The GPA is in its infancy but the GAA itself is a young organisation and the two will grow towards a successful future side by side.”
“It was always more than about money though that got clouded at the start.”
“What we do in terms of player welfare and looking after the emotional and mental wellbeing of players as well as their physical talent is important.”
“The GPA is about something deeper than performance on the field, it’s about helping people perform in life and using the platform of their position within communities to spread that message to those way beyond the dressing rooms at Croke Park.”
“It has been especially gratifying to see some of the campaigns we created being rolled out now by other athlete and player representative organisations with much larger memberships and scope.”
There is a personal side to this as well with one of the most powerful advocates of mental health being Conor Cusack, Donal Óg’s brother whose quiet impassioned telling of his story via the platform of the GPA can have helped to save lives beyond the realm of gaelic games. It doesn’t get more important that that.
Cusack will speak with flair and depth in the Clarion Hotel tomorrow. After that he will put in his time at Johnson and Johnson then take time out with the Clare team and finish the evening studying for the Masters he is undertaking at UCC.
We are fortunate that a man of such talent and energy is willing to share what he learns along the way and make the world a tiny bit better place as a result.