FOR any sports club or
organisation, producing a history is more than a way to link the past with the present. It’s a way to save the word ‘tradition’, a term which often becomes ossified through overuse and ends up scoured of any meaning.

It’s also a way of contradicting the old saw that history is written by the winners, which couldn’t be more wrong: it shows that history is written by the participants, if they have a will to do so.

Cloyne GAA club launch their club history this evening in Ballymaloe.

It’s a handsome production, well written by Dr Diarmaid Ó Failbhe, and bears eloquent witness to decades of activity.

They’ve lifted a title from Stendhal — The Red And The Black — though he’d hardly mind.

Those interested in the Frenchman’s novel will hardly mistake the
adventures of Julien Sorel in 19th-century France for the stormy 19th-century game between Cloyne and Dunmanway in which a Cloyne player was stabbed in the face.

Then again, you never know.

The Cloyne book follows a template familiar to anyone who has a fatal addiction to such histories, this columnist included, tracking the progress of the club on and off the field from 1887 onwards.

There’s an innocent pleasure to
tracing the progress of club members from underage or minor success through to the adult teams in a club and, for many, from there to
administration.

The smaller the club, the clearer the progression — the player goes from the club’s top team, lining up grim-faced before a local divisional
final, say, to its Sunday-morning social outlet side, with barely a defined
jawline between them.

There may not be a decade between the photographs but, if the reader is alert, they give a full account of
99% of all GAA playing careers: wholehearted, enjoyable, obscure.

The player’s name then pops up in the results of agms, drifting between officerships, and eventually a son or daughter peers out from a photograph a couple of chapters down the line, eerily reminiscent of his or her father in a similar snapshot from 20 or 30 pages earlier.

The Cloyne history is no different. Family names are sprinkled through the book like seasoning and incidents which once made the blood boil
between parishes are given a context and resolution.

If the adjudication inclines in some of those instances towards the Cloyne viewpoint, well, maybe history is written by the winners after all.

Certainly there’s a politic discretion about a stormy game in 1972 against Glenville, in which a Cloyne offender was identified in the referee’s report as wearing a headband.

Maybe it was a crime against
fashion.

One of the voices heard in the book is Paddy Hoare, the Kildimo Sharpshooter, who bagged a hat-trick of goals in the 1938 East Cork Junior Hurling Final: still hale and hearty seven decades on, Hoare’s
reminiscences include offering to
swap with one of his team-mates, who was getting a hard time at wing-forward from his marker in the following year’s county junior final against Mayfield.

The Mayfield defender knew he had his hands full: the Cloyne wing-forward had scored 2-4 in his previous outing for the club, and his name was Christy Ring.

Cloyne have been represented on Cork teams since, with Donal Óg Cusack and Diarmuid O’Sullivan their most famous players in recent years, but naturally Ring is a person and a presence apart.

Small villages all over Ireland enjoy brand-name identification arising out of a the exploits of a hurler or
footballer. Valentia and Tullaroan, Knockroghery and Castleconnell — you could name them all night, but you wouldn’t have to wait until evening for someone to drop Cloyne onto the list.

For all his years with Glen Rovers, the maestro was intimately identified with his own home place, and the
history strikes a fine balance in
honouring the village’s most famous export while also ensuring that Christy Ring doesn’t overshadow
everybody else.

One of Ring’s long-time adversaries, Tipperary’s John Doyle, says it best in the book.

“Whatever you do, do it well,” says Doyle, “Because he deserves that.”

They’ve done it well. They all
deserve it.

Contact:
michael.moynihan@examiner.ie ;
Twitter: MikeMoynihanEx

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ROY KEANE’S recent departure from Sunderland led to the usual ham-fisted comparisons with Cork people in general, and the current Cork hurling stand-off in particular.

The constituent parts of the rant can be assembled like a Lego castle: what is it in the water down there, always arguing, Rebels by name, look at the carry-on of Stephen Ireland, and so on.

In some ways the lazy arguments have a grain of truth: there’s often trouble in Cork. In GAA terms that trouble goes back a long way.

Anyone who picks up the Christy Ring/Peil DVD reissued by Gael Linn for Christmas will enjoy the plentiful extras on the disc, such as newsreel action from games in the ’50s and ‘60s, as well as a brief documentary on Ring himself, which begins with crowds swarming down the Marina to a Cork-Tipp NHL clash circa 1960. Beyond the choice details such as overloaded rowing boats bringing spectators across the river Lee, not to mention the players’ healthy approach to physical confrontation on the field of play, one aspect of the approach road to the then-Athletic Grounds ground caught our eye.

It is no exaggeration to say that the little dip in the road down from the Marina itself to the Athletic Grounds was in far better nick almost half a century ago, smoothly paved and devoid of potholes, than the cracked and pockmarked road that now leads down to Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Plenty of people have seized on the condition of Cork’s riverside stadium as an apt symbol for the GAA on Leeside at present: outwardly imposing yet riven with cracks, cutting-edge in its long-ago heyday, but now trailing behind; lumbering and forbidding, remote and uncomfortable.

That kind of personification may appear first to be more relevant to the offbeat psychogeography of Iain Sinclair and Will Self, writers who chronicle the emotional effect of different environments on the people who live in them, but you can tease out the parallels by visiting some significant places on the Cork sporting map.

A journey from the grey hulk of Páirc Uí Chaoimh into the city centre takes you along the Marina and up to Maylor Street, where Munster Rugby maintains an impressive commercial presence in the heart of the city. There’s plenty of branded merchandise for sale in the official Munster shop, as well as posters announcing, far in advance, the team’s next game.

Another snappy stroll takes one along the South Mall and over Parliament Bridge to the official Cork City FC shop.

Cork City has suffered plenty of financial troubles this year, including the ignominy of examinership, but it still maintains a highly visible outlet in the city centre to keep its brand and identity alive. There are plenty of City-branded goods on offer and nobody passing within 50 yards of the shop would be in any doubt about the details of the club’s next outing. The venture is supported by the top administrators in the domestic game: FAI chief executive John Delaney carried out the formal opening.

There is no corresponding GAA commercial outlet in Cork city, the second-biggest urban area in the Republic and a long-standing Gaelic games stronghold. There are plenty of sports shops selling jerseys and tracksuits, but nothing dedicated to the sale of Cork county or club clothing, tickets or other merchandise in the city centre.

Some weeks ago Páirc Uí Chaoimh hosted the county senior hurling and football finals, but you would not have been aware of it upon landing into the city that day. Nothing extra was done to draw people out of their homes and down the Marina for the game. Perhaps a simple billboard or poster on one of the city’s main thoroughfares to alert thousands of passers-by to the line-up, time and venue? As if.

That outlook bespeaks laziness when it comes to consumers, a dangerous attitude to have as recession gnaws at people’s disposable income, and taking your clients for granted can turn them off. Then again, consider the Cork County Board’s history with its own players.

IF YOU head back from the Cork City FC shop on the quay and back into the city centre, a turn or two will bring you to Cook Street, for many years the location for administrative meetings of the Cork County Board.

There is a long and inglorious litany of tense exchanges between players and administrators in Cork, and contrary to what propagandists would have us believe, the two sides have clashed for at least a century. Most people casting their minds back for examples cite the great dash for the train when the Cork footballers headed for Heuston Station rather than play extra time against Dublin in Croke Park in a national league back in the ’80s, or the tangled ‘three stripes affair’ of the ’70s, when Cork footballers faced suspension for wearing Adidas gear.

But the acrimony goes back much further. In the early years of the last century Jamesie Kelleher of Dungourney and Cork, one of the greatest hurlers of his time, sent a letter to local media filled with stinging criticism of GAA administrators within the county. The issues raised are wearyingly familiar even in the 21st century, with the poor treatment of players preparing for games top of his hit-list.

In 1931 the great Cork star Eudie Coughlan retired at the relatively early age of 31. His reason should ring a bell with anyone who followed last season’s stand-off closely; Coughlan took issue with the county board’s decision to remove from his club, Blackrock, the right to pick the Cork team in favour of a selection committee and stepped behind the line as a consequence.

Just over ten years after Coughlan’s retirement, another All-Ireland captain landed into Cook Street to question the conditions under which the Cork hurlers were preparing for an All-Ireland final. Jack Lynch would say later that he got “short shrift” from the board when he suggested that it was unsatisfactory for the Cork players to have their clothing soaked by a leaky dressing-room ceiling as they trained in the Athletic Grounds.

The dual star’s clear-eyed view of what was right and wrong showed up elsewhere. Readers of the new biography of Lynch, written by UCC Professor Dermot Keogh, will find the story of the player travelling to games to play for Cork in a taxi paid for by the county board. Their rules dictated, however, that only players could travel in said taxi, and Lynch recognised the ridiculousness of the situation, travelling alone in the cab as it passed his friends and acquaintances cycling or walking to the very same match. Cork succeeded in spite of those obstacles. Coughlan captained Cork to an epic win over Kilkenny in 1931, and Lynch collected the Liam McCarthy Cup 11 years later as well.

Even the greatest of them all had a withering view of Rebel administrators. Val Dorgan’s biography of Christy Ring includes the story of the maestro being stopped by a jobsworth on the turnstiles in Pairc Uí Chaoimh.

“Leave that man in,” said a county board official who happened upon the scene, “That’s Christy Ring, he won eight All-Irelands with Cork.”

Ring’s riposte was immortal: “And if I wasn’t carrying fellas like you I’d have won another eight.”

The obvious point to make is that the current officers of the Cork County Board are not the same men who tangled with Jamesie Kelleher and Eudie Coughlan. It is exactly 100 years since Kelleher wrote to ‘The Cork Sportsman’ and referred to the board with the words: “It’s time to wake up, take the bags from these gentlemen and show them the outside of the gates.”

While it sometimes appears that the rate of change is glacial at county board level, it’s not that glacial.

However, a particular culture can be perpetuated from generation to generation within any organisation. The reluctance of the Cork County Board to market its own greatest asset — the games it oversees — is an effect of that culture, a symptom that’s easily remedied: it just requires action.

However, the county board’s long history of conflict with its own players is different, and lies at the root of the divisions within the GAA in Cork. It proves that a toxic legacy of disrespect has become the prevailing culture within the organisation, that lessons have not been learned from the past, and that confrontation with prominent hurlers goes back to the beginning of the last century.

Those who blame the Cork senior hurlers for the current stand-off might bear that in mind.

Michael Moynihan is author of Blood Brothers: The Inside Story of the Cork Hurlers 1986-2008 (Gill and MacMillan, 16.99).

Twenty questions (and one for luck)

1. What gives between the Olympic Council of Ireland and the Irish Sports Council? Remember that this summer?

2. If Darren Sutherland is the Dazzler, is Kenny Egan the Kezzler? Would Paddy Barnes be the Paddler? Would Roy Keane be the Rozzler? (Stop that now — Ed)

3. Having spent an hour in the man’s company during the week,
is Pádraig Harrington the nicest human being in Irish sport?

4. Then again, does he have much serious competition?

5. Now that Roy Keane has shaved off his beard, can we expect the hairy cornflakes of the Tyrone football team to do the same? And is that a good or a bad thing?

6. If Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world, then why can’t he tie his laces? Or put another way, is he the fastest man in the world because he doesn’t tie his laces?

7. Has anybody now or ever given a good reason for the continuing ties with the AFL or the International Rules apart from a) those involved getting a nice freebie to Australia or b) taking free-kicks from the hand instead of off the ground?

8. The Gaelic Players Association
is offering associate membership — is it worth joining up?

9. Has Jamie Carragher done the unthinkable and created something even rarer than writing the Great American Novel and written the
Actually Interesting In Certain Parts, Amazingly Enough, For A Footballer’s Autobiography?

10. Is the Munster version of the Haka the Muka or the Maka?

More seriously, if there are New Zealanders playing for Munster, why don’t they do that dance before every game?

11. If someone else in the pub says “I’ll tell you something, there’s going to be big changes in sport because of the recession, mark my words,” are you going to stop rolling your eyes and leave immediately (by way of the off-licence)?

12. Eduardo’s leg against Birmingham: you winced, didn’t you? But then you had to have another look, didn’t you?

13. You don’t really know what to make of Declan Kidney yet either, do you?

14. If, as some people are predicting, the Cork hurling team is beaten into the second division of the NHL next year… and if the team suffers accordingly in the championship itself… are we likely to see them demoted to the Christy Ring Cup, with attendant irony?

15. Admit it — deep down you secretly admire the jerseys of Stade Francais, complete with those freaky-looking queen faces (the 13th-century heroine Blanche de Castille, the wife of Louis VIII and heroine of all of Paris, fact fans): you’d love to have the guts to wear one, wouldn’t you. Or, to be strictly accurate, you wish you didn’t have the gut to wear one?

16. Michael Phelps. The food. Remember? (http://www.youtube.com/
watch?v>WouDOVWjfdo if you don’t).

He eats 8,000 to 10,000 calories a day; why is it that he looks like a Michelangelo statue on that diet and your columnist looks like Orson Welles? (And don’t say the training)

17. Exactly how big is Lewis Hamilton? He’s young, rich, talented, cool, famous: can I at least console myself with being taller than him?

18. What is it with Ger Loughnane and priests? Was he a Cromwellian soldier in some past life? Or — slightly more plausible — Martin Luther (“I’ve got 95 Theses, but I’ll only
tell you what they are just before the throw-in”)?

19. Does anyone else think that the build-up to the Lions tour in South Africa next year seems to have been going on since the mid-seventies?

20. Finally, having written a sports book this year, why was this column not forewarned about the irrational hatred suddenly felt towards anybody else who has a book out at this time of the year?

The antipathy towards colleagues who are in direct competition on the sporting front we could have guessed at, but the psychotic bubbling of rage towards the likes of Julie Walters and Dawn French — even if we’re not all appealing to the same constituency — came as a surprise.

Is that normal?

21. Or is it just me?

contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie