Board gets back to brass tacks

AS PARLIAMENTARY gatherings go, last night’s county board meeting in Páirc Uí Chaoimh probably lacked a little in terms of drama and theatre.

No surprise there: as Barack Obama is finding out, you may campaign in poetry, but you have to govern in prose.

And last night’s meeting had a grim opening. Gerald McCarthy’s resignation as manager earlier this week was the elephant in the convention room, tootling a distracting tune on its trunk as delegates took their seats, ostensibly to hammer out the dates and venues for local championship encounters.

The soundtrack soon overcame the dialogue, however. True, a Taoiseach was appointed — or rather, a complete, brand-new Cabinet: the entire Cork U21 management team was delegated, en bloc, to handle the senior hurlers for the National Hurling League games against Clare and Limerick, but there was also plenty of anger expressed by speakers about the tribulations suffered by Gerald McCarthy in recent months.

After the vote on the short-term manager, there was a flurry of proposals regarding the composition of the committee which would appoint the long-term manager. Those proposals included committees with former players and with current players; with Pauric Duffy aboard or with the county chairman as a member; with club coaches participating or with club chairmen getting involved.

And finally, a proposal from the Newtownshandrum club which involved Jim O’Sullivan of this parish helping to select one of those committees.

At last, at last, at last: an organisation with the common sense to listen to us. What odds would you have got on that organisation being the Cork County Board?
THE number and variety of those proposals was far too unwieldy for last night’s meeting to process, so it was decided to hold another meeting on Monday night to hear what the clubs have to say about the proposals . . . I know. It’s hard to keep track of everything. After a while every second word is either ‘meeting’ or ‘proposal’.

Last night wasn’t an occasion for Cromwellian thunder, and the speakers wouldn’t have been confused with the likes of Burke or Grattan. They didn’t need to be.

After all, there was an odd mixture on the agenda which had to be addressed — the mundane, in that the championship fixtures are a hardy annual on the order of business, and the momentous, in that . . . well, you’ve probably been well briefed on that over the last few months.

For those who have been tracking those mass meetings in the last week around Cork — many of them large enough to keep Daniel O’Connell happy — there may be a little surprise this morning that the rule book wasn’t filleted like a kipper in Páirc Uí Chaoimh last night.

They shouldn’t be. Expressive as those meetings were of a thirst within the county for change, they can’t effect that change unilaterally. The
legislature is where those changes are made, not the hustings.

If you’re sick of the political metaphors, consider those last few get-togethers as more in the nature of warm-up performances for the big premiere: before the glossy musicals ever get to Broadway they’re given a run out of town first. Accordingly, procedural developments were thin on the ground last evening, as was constitutional reform, though a special convention would be a more appropriate forum for the reinvention of administration in Cork anyway.

This morning the announcement of John Considine and his colleagues as managers of the senior hurling team will dominate headlines. Little wonder.

Last night’s meeting moved on to the pleas for postponements of various championship games, which will generate plenty of discussion at local level: as chairman Jerry O’Sullivan pointed out, for instance, weddings are not a genuine cause for postponements. The games go on regardless.

True enough. They also go on despite separations.



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.

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).

Colm O’Connor

The gloom show

THE chill was beginning to bite as Cork County Board’s annual Convention came to order last Saturday night. Expectations of fire and brimstone in the main hall of Páirc Uí Chaoimh, however, weren’t fulfilled.

Given the reams of criticism that administrators in Cork GAA have
attracted in recent years, it’s worth
remembering that those who turned up for the convention weren’t draped in the freshly skinned pelts of GPA members. Nor were they carrying torches like the mob in a horror film, ready to advance on the creature’s lair.

Those in Páirc Uí Chaoimh were indistinguishable from their counterparts in other counties and other sports. Middle-aged men for the most part, taking few chances with their wardrobe, sitting in a large hall with photographs of past teams on the walls: the picture is replicated from Malin to Mizen at this time of year.

Their concerns in the meeting were no different to those in other counties also: fixture congestion and clubs
trying to field teams, the search for administrators and player eligibility.

The sharpest exchange early on centred on the knotty issue of players choosing between lining out for UCC and Cork IT, while on sports bursaries at those colleges, or playing for their division: exactly the kind of local issue that a county convention is made for.

Unfortunately, another issue, which long ago ceased being local, was also destined to be raised. The impasse between the Cork senior hurlers, the Cork hurling manager and the Cork County Board was always likely to dominate discussions, and so it did.

In the course of a debate which lasted the better part of 90 minutes, club representatives aired their views of the stand-off as soon as board officers Bob Ryan and Jerry O’Sullivan finished outlining their efforts to restart negotiations with the players.

There were speakers who said the county board had made its decision regarding the senior hurling manager, that it was time to get on with the job and with the players who were willing to play for Cork. The county was a laughing stock, damage was being done to clubs, and so on.

No surprise in that.

What was surprising was that other speakers told the officers of the board at the top table in the hall that they were responsible for the mess.

Others expected more action from the board to deal with the situation.

And some offered solutions. One club delegate noted plans were being made for a new hurling academy and suggested that Cork manager Gerald McCarthy be moved upstairs to run that academy, giving everyone the
opportunity to save face, as he put it; that contribution drew applause.

Another club representative asked if the board was satisfied that the appropriate process had been followed in appointing McCarthy, warning there could be serious consequences if that was not the case, but secretary Frank Murphy assured the convention not alone was decision reached in binding arbitration followed, the spirit of that decision had also been followed.

Murphy expanded his answer to give an overview of the five meetings of the seven-man appointment committee, which had been made up of five board members and two players. When one of the delegates wondered if the interview process could be
revisited — as that appeared to be the point where the appointment
committee had come to grief — the county secretary replied that that was past tense, and not something that could be returned to.

Other points followed from the floor: that a resolution could not be reached at the cost of Gerald McCarthy; that the board was being stonewalled in its attempts to contact the players; why was a player representative not invited to speak at the convention, and so on.

Eventually it was decided that incoming board President Derry Gowen would appoint a person to try to set up a committee involving representatives of the players, the board and the senior hurling management committee. Then President-elect Christy Cooney made some remarks and it was back to the uncomfortable seating in the uncovered stand, the knock-on effects of the proposed cuts in education funding for GAA clubs…

The ordinary problems and challenges facing the organisation were
almost embraced, they were so

Saturday night proved that a resolution is as far away as ever, which is hardly news; neither is the fact that the Cork County Board is satisfied it has acted properly. The hurt and distress displayed by the club representatives, a fair representative sample of GAA people, was no surprise either. The truly depressing aspects of the evening were the fact that they’ve been there before, the fact that they’re there again, and the likelihood that there’ll be more pain before the end.

Outside afterwards the frost was all over the cars.

Tony Leen

Challenge may leave

YESTERDAY morning this column spent some time in the company of Gus

Kelleher, Denis Coakley and Garvin Queeney, teachers at St Colman’s

College in Fermoy.

They started their preparations for next Sunday, and the St Colman’s 150th
anniversary game against Cork, months ago, and up to a few weeks ago it looked
like a nice winter diversion.

As of now they look to have organised the Most Anticipated Challenge Match Of
All Time for this weekend.

However, there can’t be any debate about whether this game should be

going ahead or not. The moratorium on inter-county activity in the months of
November and December which was announced earlier this year was
and unambiguous.

It also came with warnings attached: GAA director-general Paraic Duffy said
at the time that if the close season
directive were ignored, then sanctions
would be forthcoming. He said: “If a manager insists on going ahead we would
deal with that if it happened.”

That, presumably, was behind the CCCC decision to call the game off,
announced in this newspaper last Thursday.

It was one occasion on which a politic, discreet deferral would have been a
godsend. It would have given time to cool matters down in Cork and given some
valuable breathing space to all concerned, and an alternative date could have
been found for the game, say, in early January. If the dispute still lingered
then fair enough: everybody could take their chances.

Within a day, however, it transpired that the game was going ahead after all.
GAA President Nickey Brennan had said previously that the game was a “special
event”, and that was the
reasoning behind the reversal, which tabloid custom
demands we call
“a sensational/dramatic u-turn”.

The GAA’s initial policy decision was aimed at avoiding player burnout; bear
that in mind when considering that if a Glen Rovers U21 plays on Sunday it will
be his 10th weekend in a row on the field of play. Some player welfare.

The Association’s volte face has also given rise to an entirely different
form of burnout, this one involving fibre-
optic cables and mobile phone
batteries. A welter of calls have been made in the Cork area in the last week —
between selectors and potential players and
between potential players and

established players.

In a nutshell, promising youngsters are being invited to play senior hurling
for Cork, knowing that in some
instances their own teammates are

vehemently against that idea.

What does that mean? Trouble.
Consider it from this perspective: If a
‘new’ player lines out for Cork on
Sunday, what happens when that player
goes back to his club the following week and sits in the same dressing-
as another player who asked him not to play in that game?

Unfortunately, neither Nickey Brennan nor Paraic Duffy will be on hand to
sort out any problems that arise as a
result. As one close observer of the
Cork scene pointed out to this writer during the week, those problems are likely
to arise in training sessions and low-key league games, far from the hot glare
of publicity, and that poison will linger for a generation of players.



WHY DID nobody in Croke Park think of that? Given the fact that the Cork
hurlers missed out on national hurling league fixtures last season, the GAA
hierarchy surely didn’t think the prospect of missing a challenge game would
send those players back into their training bibs?

While it is understood that the Cork County Board was anxious that the game
would go ahead despite the
current stand-off, surely those at the top of the
GAA tree could have prevailed upon them to abide by the original CCCC decision.

As it is, those players and selectors who take the field for Cork in Sunday’s
game are liable for suspensions for breaching the moratorium. And despite the
talk of a development squad earlier in the week, this is a Cork team.

Recently, comments were reported from the county board to the effect that it
had never been intended to include members of this season’s Cork hurling squad
anyway for the St Colman’s game. Nonsense: otherwise 25 members of the 2008 Cork
hurling squad would not have been contacted about that same game a couple of
weeks ago.

Ironically, though the Cork County Board might be grateful to be rid of their
troublesome priests through retirement and banishment, it should consider that
if the “development squad” is suspended for breaching the moratorium, who will
be left to line out in the red jersey next year?