In today’s Irish Independent, former Cork hurler and Aussie Rules star Aisake Ó hAilpín spoke to Vincent Hogan about his time with the Cork hurlers, and how things ended, including his disappointment with the treatment of his brother Seán Óg.
Cork take on All-Ireland champions Tipperary tomorrow and enter as massive underdogs. Similar odds would have been offered on the same fixture seven years ago when The Rebels shocked the hurling world.
To the fore of this upset was 6’7 Aisake Ó hAilpín. Aisake, the youngest of the Ó hAilpín trio, had just returned from Australia after being let go from Carlton’s squad.
Having linked up with the squad in 2009, he made his name as a Cork hurler in 2010. Aisake caused wreck at the edge of the Tipp square on that day.
Not many hurlers have given Padraic Maher a torrid time in inter-county hurling. Aisake played a part in two goals that day while scoring one of his own.
“I remember the day so well. It really didn’t bother me who Tipp put at full-back. Whoever it was would be just another guy, standing in my way.
“When I came home and switched to hurling I was thinking ‘f**k, have I done the right thing?’ But here I was scoring a goal and having a hand in the other two against Tipp.
“I didn’t go running around yelling and screaming like a lunatic but I had this massive smile inside of me.”
Unfortunately, not all days ran so sweetly for Aisake. Fast forward to August of 2010 and things had come full circle. Despite a feeling that he had held his own against Kilkenny, he found himself substituted at the break, with Cork 13 points down.
He felt unhappy with the decision, and also how it had been handled.
“The game just went away from us so quickly. It was over at half-time, a total anti-climax. And then I got taken off, which made it worse. Because I honestly thought I held my own in there.
“Then I went in and it wasn’t even the coach who told me I was coming off. It was one of the selectors. That tells me I don’t really know who was calling the shots that day. It was as if the coach was afraid to tell me I was coming off.
“Himself (Seán Óg) and John Gardiner didn’t know what to say. I mean, we obviously weren’t going to rescue this game with points. Not against Kilkenny.”
It was the reaction of the younger players at the time that particularly disillusioned Aisake. After such a heavy defeat he felt severe disappointment, as did some of the older players. The younger players had moved on by the time they boarded the bus home.
“I couldn’t get that bus journey out of my head either. These lads laughing and joking. All ‘where are we going tonight?’ Even drinking on the bus. Like, how can you have a drink on the bus after getting pumped like that?
“I didn’t like that at all. And I could see that Seán Óg and Donal Óg didn’t like it either. Oh f**k I could see it in Donal Óg’s face.”
Ó hAilpín’s decision not to return to the panel in 2011 was decided by one management decision. While he was spending time in Australia after the defeat and with a pending job offer, older brother Seán Óg had been dropped.
This was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Aisake.
“As soon as I heard Seán Óg had been told he was out of Cork’s plans that was it.
“I couldn’t believe it. He still ticked all the boxes you could have been looking for in an inter county hurler. I’d seen all the stuff on the bus after the Kilkenny game, but Seán Óg was one of those they were letting go. That was a shock to me. F**king hell.
“And I just decided ‘You know what? I’m not going to give my life to these people when they’re basically just after shafting my brother.”
Aisake Ó hAilpín will watch tomorrow’s game from the privacy of his own home. The Cork native will be hopeful that The Rebels can spring another shock over The Premier County.
Make sure to check out the latest episode of The 16th Man, where we hear from Diarmuid O’Sullivan and Padraic Maher ahead of Tipperary vs Cork.