Cusack: we'll Tipp balance
AS much as Kilkenny's unbridled supremacy has irked Donal óg Cusack through these difficult, angst-filled years, so too must Tipperary represent somewhat of an irritant over the past three.
The veteran Rebel custodian has led the war-affected Cork hurlers through some lean times, bitter battles (on and off the pitch) and triumphant moments, but since 2007 they have been eclipsed by their nearest and dearest of neighbours.
Despite a typically herculean effort 12 months ago in Thurles, Cork's deficiencies in training and preparation told and Tipp won through by three points.
A year before that, though, represents the greatest source of recent Rebel regret from a fairly bulksome back catalogue.
Tipp went to Cork and for the first time in 86 years won a championship match. It was the first time Cork had been conquered by Tipp in Páirc Uí Chaoimh in the Munster championship.
Worse still, they glided past the struggling Rebels, taking a six-point win and more than a smidgen of satisfaction in their new-found superiority.
"Páirc Uí Chaoimh is our home and we're very conscious of the fact that we were the first team to be defeated by Tipperary in the history of the game at home," says Cusack. "That wasn't something that was enjoyable. Everybody is proud of their own house and nobody likes losing at home."
Which is why the venue on Sunday has such significance for Cork. Not that losing has suddenly become acceptable for a team who once set the standards, but travelling to Thurles without the benefit of full preparation last year lowered expectations.
"That game finished 1-19 to 0-19 and I think there were certain things that happened during the game that, if they worked out a bit different, maybe the result would have been different," reckons Cusack. "Having said that, Tipperary proved over the year that they were much better than the level we were at last year. They would have benefited from having a tough year and having all those tough games last season."
With a full programme of league matches, five months of collective, unbroken training behind them and no immediate signs of disharmony, Tipp in 'the Páirc' represents the sort of fixture which Cusack relishes.
"To be fair, Cork never minded going to Thurles," he notes. "This team has been no different. Having said that, Páirc Uí Chaoimh is our home. We like playing there and we remember losing there two years ago."
Whereas a year back Cork's preparations were abbreviated and Denis Walsh's own plans were necessarily narrow, Walsh and his squad have had the same benefit of time as Tipp going into Sunday.
After years of strife and truncated build-ups, Cusack is happy that there has been adequate time to get the heads focused on Liam Sheedy's men.
"I think it's logical to say that if you have a year to prepare for something then you're going to be in a better position than if you didn't have a year. If you look at it from Dennis Walsh's point of view, he came in tough circumstances last year. He's had a year to put his own stamp on things now. That can only be a positive for Sunday."
Certainly, from a players' perspective, Cusack is satisfied with Walsh. He was the choice of an independent panel, made up of former players John Fenton, Jimmy Barry Murphy and Denis Coughlan, but Cusack has been suitably impressed with the new man.
"Every player wants to be part of something like that," he says. "Every player wants to be going down to Páirc Uí Chaoimh or Páirc Uí Rinn and feel that his time is being well spent. Hopefully all that will show on Sunday."
As for the notion that Cork could withstand a fourth consecutive loss to Tipperary and still mount an All-Ireland challenge, Cusack is predictably dismissive.
"I don't have the capacity to be thinking beyond that," he says. "Sunday demands all your thoughts at the moment in terms of your preparation. I would be surprised if everybody was thinking any different. Sunday is the be all and end all of us, and that's just the way it is."