Hurling: Ireland stunned by gay star

Sportsman shatters sporting taboo by deciding to come out

Donal Og Cusack, 32, is a solid gold star in the macho world of Irish hurling. Cork's goalkeeper for more than a decade, this son of a crane driver from the small town of Cloyne has rewritten the way the game is played, to the fury of many traditionalists.

But this week the headlines had nothing to do with his prowess with the hurley. From the Irish Times to Twitter, the media were throbbing with the revelation that he had come out as gay – the first elite sportsperson in Ireland to do so.

The news broke in the Irish Mail on Sunday. "This is who I am," he told the paper. "Whatever you feel about me or who I am, I've always been at peace with it." He tells the full story in his memoirs, entitled Come What May, and published tomorrow.

"Since I was 13 or 14," he writes, "I knew I was a bit different. I hate labels though. That's the way I am. I live with it and I am fine with it. People close to me will tell you there were never any tears. There was never agony. I just know this thing."

The reaction to the news was overwhelmingly positive. The Irish Independent reported that the goalkeeper had been "overwhelmed with messages of support" from team-mates, Cork supporters and hurling fans generally. But there were fears, in a country where homosexuality is often identified with paedophilia and where the Catholic church condemns it as evil, that plenty of people were quietly hostile.

The Gaelic Athletics Association (GAA), the game's ruling body, was said to be concerned "about the possible reaction of a minority of fans". "The hostility towards him is usually more slyly expressed than the goodwill," wrote Cusack's co-author, Tom Humphries, in the Irish Times. The presenter of a radio programme on which the issue was discussed reported getting a lot of anti-homosexual texts.

Although Cusack was widely praised for his courage, it was not exactly a free decision. Like the similar revelation by Boyzone star Stephen Gately, who died this month in Majorca, it was fear of being trashed in the tabloids that dictated his pre-emptive strike.

In 2006 gossip about his sexuality forced Cusack to drop out of a team tour of South Africa and fly home to tell his family, fearing that the story was about to break in the media. That was when he had to break the news to his father. It was clearly a difficult conversation. "Now my father is a man who would fight for his family," Cusack writes in his memoirs, "but he's 63 years of age. He's a crane driver. Building sites can be cruel, hard places, he didn't need this. There was confusion in every line of his face."

Bigoted fans have brought their prejudices to the games. At a match against rivals Tipperary in the summer, one of them began bawling homophobic abuse down a megaphone and kept it up for the rest of the game. It was not an isolated incident. "My mother doesn't go to games any more," Cusack revealed this week. "The stress is too much. My sister Treasa has been deeply upset a few times by what she has heard. I hate what it does to those around me, especially when it doesn't hurt me at all."

Cusack's revelation came during the week that Ireland passed another milestone: the first national conference of gay, lesbian and bisexual primary school teachers was held in Dublin. Opening the event, the novelist Colm Toibin said: "Any historian writing about the slow and often gnarled progress of liberty in Ireland will see today as a central moment in the assertion of personal freedom in our country."

But as Fintan O'Toole commented in the Irish Times: "There are still tens of thousands of gay men and lesbians who are in hiding from violence, contempt and ignorance. That is not their shame – it is ours."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Ed Miliband and David Cameron are neck and neck in the polls
election 2015Armando Iannucci: on how British politics is broken
News
i100
Life and Style
Great minds like Einstein don't think alike
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds This i...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Bristol

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power