Cork GAA: the questions that need answering January 2 2009

January 12, 2009

Question: What now for the Cork County Board?

Answer: Administrators in the Rebel County look to be holding the best cards. They have the backing of club delegates and told the recent county convention that they re-appointed senior hurling manager Gerald McCarthy correctly, in accordance with the guidelines laid down by Labour Relations Commission (LRC) chief Kieran Mulvey last February.

Yet there have been significant reversals for the administration.

Fr Bernie Cotter’s thundering condemnations from the pulpit before the county convention aroused resentment from many people, and the board has not publicly disassociated itself from Cotter’s inflammatory call for confrontation, leaving themselves open to charges of tacitly endorsing his sentiments.

The Cork footballers’ boycott of their medal presentation was another bloody nose for the board. Whatever the footballers plan for the new year, it was an ominous reminder of other potential problems for administrators.

And as we mentioned operating in accordance with those guidelines . . .

Q: What about that Kieran Mulvey document?

A: The departure of Teddy Holland was for many the most significant development after the LRC chief got involved, closely followed by his
recommendation that two players be involved in picking the new senior manager.

The fact that Cork were to return immediately to the hurling and
football fields meant few people paid attention to his memorandum of understanding.

At the recent convention, county board secretary Frank Murphy and then-chairman Mick Dolan stressed the board had been faithful to the decisions and spirit of the agreement Mulvey hammered out.

But were they? Murphy, for instance, told delegates that Gerald McCarthy’s reappointment was in
accordance with normal appointment procedures in the county for “quite a number of years”, wherein the
best candidate, according to the
appointment committee, is approached for a management job and offered the post; if that candidate
accepts the post then that acceptance brings the process to a close.

That doesn’t sound like the procedure Kieran Mulvey painstakingly put together in February, now famous for its two players and five county board representatives on the appointment committee. So which
procedure was used? Then there’s the new committee, chaired by solicitor Olann Kelleher at the invitation of Cork GAA President Derry Gowen. . .

Q: What can that committee do?

A: Good question. While the prospect of getting all sides around a table was, naturally, hailed as a breakthrough when first announced, the powers and terms of reference of that committee are unknown. If it cannot enforce any decisions or conclusions reached, then what value does it have? And a committee already exists with representatives from board and team.

Kieran Mulvey’s recommendations included provision for a consultative committee to be made up of board members and players, which would meet on a regular basis throughout the season to discuss matters of interest to both sides.

What has happened to that committee? Does it supercede the Kelleher/Gowen committee? If so, can it make recommendations and why has it not done so?

Q: What about Gerald McCarthy?

A: Given what has been said on both sides in recent months it looks unlikely that Gerald McCarthy and the Cork hurlers could ever share a dressing-room again, despite McCarthy’s recent letter to 2008 squad members inquiring about their availability.

The manager has obviously learned from Teddy Holland’s experience last year. Holland’s media silence meant he never became an identifiable figure in the public eye. By contrast, McCarthy has been willing from the outset to counter the players’ comments with statements of his own.

Some of his interventions have been costly, however: his response against Seán Óg Ó hAilpín’s attack was one example.

At the recent county board convention a delegate proposed McCarthy be moved upstairs to a ‘director
of hurling’ post within the hurling development academy he mooted some time ago, a suggestion
which drew applause from the
floor. It could be a way out.

After the 2008 season ended,
McCarthy told one senior player that he would only be back as manager if the players wanted him back, while following the All-Ireland semi-final defeat by Kilkenny one of McCarthy’s backroom team told players that he had advised the manager not to go forward for 2009: two discussions which informed the player representatives’ approach to the re-appointments process.

Q: Will he be the last manager in that situation?

A: Notwithstanding the understandable weariness in the country at large with this, the third edition of a stand-off in Cork, there are serious implications for the GAA as a whole, and for managers in particular.

There have been attempts to link any controversies involving the Cork players to the Gaelic Players Association (GPA).

However, those making such connections would be better advised to look at examples such as the Waterford hurlers, whose manager Justin McCarthy departed the scene as soon as it became clear his players had lost faith in his management skills.

The GPA didn’t get involved in Waterford. It didn’t have to. The pressure on players to perform has had an unexpected dividend because, unlike the antsy directors of a Premier League team, the stakeholders directly affected by poor inter-county performance are players. Much as conservatives may not like the prospect, if those players are unhappy with management then action will be taken, which looks likely to become more frequent in the future.

Seeing as we mentioned players . . .

Q: What about them?

A: The 2008 panellists are neither angels nor saints. Few All-Ireland medal-winners are. But, going back to October, they have consistently stressed their problems with the
process by which Gerald McCarthy was re-appointed. The focus on
procedure may not be sexy enough for many followers, but that process needs to be re-examined.

Despite rumours of division among the players, two of the youngest
panellists – Shane O’Neill and Cathal Naughton – rejected those suggestions to this newspaper recently, while it may surprise some to learn that in November 2007 one of the senior players now regarded as leading the opposition to McCarthy persuaded other panellists, who wanted to oust the manager, to continue under him into 2008.

Q: And as you mentioned 2008….

A: That year is over, but all in all, the emotional toll of this dispute on every participant, on all sides, is considerable, and clearly is not the optimum preparation for an inter-county season which begins for the Cork hurlers next weekend with the Waterford Crystal League. A week is a long time in politics. It could be a lot longer in hurling.

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