I T’S the book that has shocked the
GAA, but Cork in particular. The
most sensational revelation has had people opening conversations with “Have you read . . .” for the last day or two, and re-evaluating their opinion of a famous GAA player. Everyone suspected it would be spelt out, of course, because the rumours have been swirling around for a while, but the stark, unvarnished statements of fact still came as a surprise.

Enough for now, though, about Tadhg Kennelly’s confession that he targeted Nicholas Murphy in the All-Ireland football final.

Yesterday’s Mail on Sunday carried the banner headline that Donal Óg Cusack, Cork hurling goalkeeper and multiple All-Ireland-medal winner, was outing himself as gay in his new autobiography, Come What May.

By making his sexuality public while still playing Cusack has issued a tacit challenge to the GAA nation in its dealings with him. On the field of play opponents seeking to wound with casual homophobia have had their guns spiked.

Off the field of play . . . well, in some conservative pockets within the Association, Cusack’s identity as a driving force within the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) is likely to remain far more inflammatory than any
flummery about bedmates.

In one sense, it should hardly come as a surprise that a top GAA player would state he’s homosexual: if a
proportion of the population at large can be assumed to be gay, then why shouldn’t that proportion be the same, if not higher, among men who train for hours in the gym all year long, obsess about their diet and physical well-being, and spend the vast majority of their time outside work with other men who share their interests?

Facetiousness aside, Cusack’s honesty deserves to be applauded. His frank and detailed account of telling his family about his situation, for instance, should help others who face a similar prospect.

And In an odd way it was the perfect week for such a development. In the wake of Boyzone singer Stephen Gately’s unexpected death, news bulletins carried references to his husband Andrew without demur or explanation, a tacit declaration that people don’t need to have twentieth-century attitudes massaged in order to handle twenty-first-century realities.

Cusack’s case is different to Gately’s, of course. In a hurling championship game participants don’t face off in front of a crowd screaming with one voice for a song from the latest
album; half of the crowd is
usually screaming with one voice for immediate and terrible retaliation to be visited on the
opposition.

Some throats are probably warming up already for a sitting duck: Cusack is 32, not particularly old for a goalkeeper as dedicated as the Cloyne club man. He was as good this season as he ever was, so it’s more than likely that when Cork take the field in next year’s National Hurling League and Munster championship he’ll be trotting into goal with the red-and-white hooped jersey.

What will the reaction be from those standing on the terraces behind him? In Christy O’Connor’s fine book ‘Last Men Standing’, which follows hurling goalkeepers,
including Cusack, over the 2004
season, one of the common threads to the testimony of the goalies interviewed was the amount of
abuse poured out of the terraces onto the heads
of the men in the No 1 jersey.

GAA members can be complacent about the innate decency of most spectators at
inter-county games, but anyone who has stood behind the goal at one of those games and heard the vilest comments roared about a hurler or footballer’s private life knows there are as many louts following GAA as there are in any other sport.

Cusack has heard as much abuse as any other keeper, a situation which is unlikely to change after yesterday’s revelations; it’s one of the more
remarkable aspects of human nature that some people can reconcile the apparent contradiction of abusing others’ personal circumstances — circumstances they’d accommodate willingly if replicated within their own family.

Enough of the anthropology. The Cloyne man joins a pretty select group of gay sportsmen: former NBA player John Amaechi has outed himself, as did Olympic diver Greg Louganis, though it’s significant enough that both of those men did so after their careers were finished. GAA supporters will have to examine their consciences when it comes to the specific
imprecations they wish to visit on the Cork goalkeeper next year.

Our kudos, by the way, to the
internet sage who wondered if the shocking discovery to be found in the Cloyne man’s autobiography referred to a season spent playing minor
football for neighbouring club Russell Rovers.

After all, there are shock revelations, and then there are shock revelations.

Adopted Rebel Howlett firmly
behind Cork
crusade

HALF a world away from New Zealand, he still can’t cheer for a team in green and gold. All Black legend Doug Howlett had many a Bledisloe Cup clash with the Wallabies: he knows a rivalry when he sees one.

Hence the New Zealander’s enjoyment of Cork’s Munster semi-final win over Kerry. Based in Cork while he plays for Munster, Howlett quickly appreciated the hold GAA exerted in his new home.

“The first thing that struck me when I came out of Cork Airport when I arrived was the big statue of Christy Ring — that emphasised for me just how big the GAA sports are here.

“Cork being my local town while I’m with Munster, I decided to follow the local teams in hurling and football. And with the Munster squad everybody’s got their own team, so it’s obviously more fun when you’ve got your own team and your own opinions. And I’m aligned with Cork.”

His commitment means just one thing for his teammates: ammunition.

“Yeah, there’s a lot of banter about everyone’s GAA team. Denis Leamy is a big Tipperary fan while you’ve got plenty of guys from Limerick cheering on their sides.

“As a sportsman you appreciate what these guys bring to their sports — the footballers’ kicking skills and fitness levels, obviously. I just enjoy being part of the crowd.”

Given the number of high-pressure games Howlett has played over the years at all levels, being just another spectator must be a welcome change.

“Exactly. That’s what I really enjoy — somebody else is putting on the show, not Munster, and it’s the other side of sport. I can sit back and enjoy the occasion and relax with a cup of tea — and have an opinion on the game.

“I got to the Kerry game down in Páirc Uí Chaoimh — I’d heard of the history between the teams, and the lads with Munster said it was definitely a game worth going to, and I really enjoyed it. I met a few of the Kerry lads as well, and they’re a good bunch. But I can’t support two teams.

“I’d seen the drawn game, and that really added to it, that there was so much at stake. The replay was a great game, as they all are at this stage coming into the semi-finals.”

As has been pointed out many times in the past by others, Howlett was struck by how suitable many GAA players would be for rugby.

“Of course — coming from a country which has rugby as its major sport, and where athletes are pushed into rugby, I can see that here it’s much more diverse, and you have three or four different sports athletes can choose from.

“Looking at GAA athletes, they’re well suited to rugby, it’d be interesting to see them with a rugby ball and how they’d do.”

The star winger has his favourites on the Cork side, but rules out taking up hurling any time soon.

“I like Graham Canty a lot, he’s a real workhorse that leads from the front and doesn’t slow down for the entire game, he’s one player I enjoy watching.

“If I were playing Gaelic football myself … I don’t know, I think I’d be able to get on the ball, but then it’d be a question of what to do with it after that! I’d see myself up front, or maybe midfield — though I mightn’t have the height for midfield.

“Hurling? I don’t think so — hurleys are often brought out at Munster training and I’m well put in my place by the likes of Denis (Leamy) and Tomás O’Leary.”

Howlett hasn’t lost focus when it comes to the day job, given it’s getting to a stage in the year when thoughts are turning to rugby — at all levels.

“We’re back with Munster and ready to go, a lot of the pre-season work is done, and we’ll be ready for the new season.

“There’s a pretty good start to the season today actually in Highfield, with the Meteor Munster Sevens tournament. That’ll be a good day out for rugby fans.”

And tomorrow? Is the Kiwi Cork fan going Upper Hogan or Lower Cusack?

“I don’t have a ticket for tomorrow actually,” he says. “I’m a bit cheeky, I’m hoping to wait for the final.”

Waiting for the final? Sure you’re not a Kerry supporter?

GAA’s dual
thinking lives on

IS THERE any irony to be mined from the tributes being paid to Cork County Board secretary, Frank
Murphy, falling on the anniversary of the outbreak of World War II?

The first question to ask is a simple one: what exactly has inspired these tributes? The secretary has not retired; he continues to work in Cork and will be operating at the top level of GAA administration for the next few years, according to the Director-General of the organisation, Pauric Duffy, who was quoted yesterday as saying: “I’m sure he will continue to play a part at local and national level for a period of time and he has just started a three-year term as the Rules Advisory Group chairman and is a member of our stadium executive.”

Cork County Board chairman Jerry O’Sullivan went even further, outlining he “would expect that there would be some crossover period for the new person to bed in and learn the ropes.”

If the incumbent county secretary is going nowhere, then what exactly has inspired these fulsome tributes?

For a fuller, more detailed example of GAA doublethink, however,
consider Duffy’s other comments: that Murphy has made a huge contribution to the GAA in Cork and nationally.

It’s a comment worth placing alongside the peace plan that GAA chiefs outlined for Cork earlier this year, which involved removing every function proper to the executive of a county board, from fixture management to selecting inter-county managers.

Duffy signed off on that plan. So did GAA President Christy Cooney.

Some readers may feel it unfair to link the two, pointing to the secretary being just one voice on the executive rather than the dominant force in Cork GAA for almost four decades.

They’re correct. It would be a gross insult to the office holders in the board executive to suggest that one man had led them in every major decision — and a good few minor ones — since 1972. Nobody would dare suggest that they weren’t their own men.

But Cork County Board PRO Ger Lane opened the Pandora’s box when he pinpointed the county secretary’s achievements, pointing to the “acquisition of Páirc Uí Rinn, the elimination of the debt on Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the Cork County Board draw and the great victories of the Cork teams since he took office are also a tribute to his prowess”.

Fair enough. But the problem in claiming those undoubted victories as the secretary’s achievements is there’s a danger that parallel disappointments can also be laid at his door.

Páirc Uí Chaoimh is an uncomfortable hulk which regularly suffers access problems on big match days, for instance. Purchasing Páirc Uí Rinn and the board draw offer further evidence of the economic power of the county board, but plenty of GAA members in the Rebel County would prefer that financial muscle to be flexed by investing in more games development officers than the five recently appointed.

As for the “great victories of Cork teams since he took office”, well, there’s so much to work with there that we hardly know where to begin.

We’ll be coming back to this one.

By the way, for those who may feel that GAA doublethink exists only in Cork, or in relation to Cork, take the complaints of the Kerry senior footballers in recent times about a couple of their players being featuring on the front pages of the newspapers.

These complaints concentrated on the specific charge of the players
sharing space with other less celebrated newsmakers on the front page.

One of the players concerned was so irate about being splashed on the front pages, he made his feelings known: “I made the front pages of the newspapers,” said Colm Cooper, going on to wonder what the world was coming to if a 26-year-old had a few drinks etc.

You can read exactly what he said, by the way. He made the point in an interview which was splashed across the front pages of a newspaper.

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

HALF a world away from New Zealand, he still can’t cheer for a team in green and gold. All Black legend Doug Howlett had many a Bledisloe Cup clash with the Wallabies: he knows a rivalry when he sees one.

Hence the New Zealander’s enjoyment of Cork’s Munster semi-final win over Kerry. Based in Cork while he plays for Munster, Howlett quickly appreciated the hold GAA exerted in his new home.

“The first thing that struck me when I came out of Cork Airport when I arrived was the big statue of Christy Ring — that emphasised for me just how big the GAA sports are here.

“Cork being my local town while I’m with Munster, I decided to follow the local teams in hurling and football. And with the Munster squad everybody’s got their own team, so it’s obviously more fun when you’ve got your own team and your own opinions. And I’m aligned with Cork.”

His commitment means just one thing for his teammates: ammunition.

“Yeah, there’s a lot of banter about everyone’s GAA team. Denis Leamy is a big Tipperary fan while you’ve got plenty of guys from Limerick cheering on their sides.

“As a sportsman you appreciate what these guys bring to their sports — the footballers’ kicking skills and fitness levels, obviously. I just enjoy being part of the crowd.”

Given the number of high-pressure games Howlett has played over the years at all levels, being just another spectator must be a welcome change.

“Exactly. That’s what I really enjoy — somebody else is putting on the show, not Munster, and it’s the other side of sport. I can sit back and enjoy the occasion and relax with a cup of tea — and have an opinion on the game.

“I got to the Kerry game down in Páirc Uí Chaoimh — I’d heard of the history between the teams, and the lads with Munster said it was definitely a game worth going to, and I really enjoyed it. I met a few of the Kerry lads as well, and they’re a good bunch. But I can’t support two teams.

“I’d seen the drawn game, and that really added to it, that there was so much at stake. The replay was a great game, as they all are at this stage coming into the semi-finals.”

As has been pointed out many times in the past by others, Howlett was struck by how suitable many GAA players would be for rugby.

“Of course — coming from a country which has rugby as its major sport, and where athletes are pushed into rugby, I can see that here it’s much more diverse, and you have three or four different sports athletes can choose from.

“Looking at GAA athletes, they’re well suited to rugby, it’d be interesting to see them with a rugby ball and how they’d do.”

The star winger has his favourites on the Cork side, but rules out taking up hurling any time soon.

“I like Graham Canty a lot, he’s a real workhorse that leads from the front and doesn’t slow down for the entire game, he’s one player I enjoy watching.

“If I were playing Gaelic football myself … I don’t know, I think I’d be able to get on the ball, but then it’d be a question of what to do with it after that! I’d see myself up front, or maybe midfield — though I mightn’t have the height for midfield.

“Hurling? I don’t think so — hurleys are often brought out at Munster training and I’m well put in my place by the likes of Denis (Leamy) and Tomás O’Leary.”

Howlett hasn’t lost focus when it comes to the day job, given it’s getting to a stage in the year when thoughts are turning to rugby — at all levels.

“We’re back with Munster and ready to go, a lot of the pre-season work is done, and we’ll be ready for the new season.

“There’s a pretty good start to the season today actually in Highfield, with the Meteor Munster Sevens tournament. That’ll be a good day out for rugby fans.”

And tomorrow? Is the Kiwi Cork fan going Upper Hogan or Lower Cusack?

“I don’t have a ticket for tomorrow actually,” he says. “I’m a bit cheeky, I’m hoping to wait for the final.”

Waiting for the final? Sure you’re not a Kerry supporter?

Why Rock knows it’s time to roll

SOME rocks eventually become precious stones. A few are gems from the start.

Diarmuid O’Sullivan has three All-Ireland medals and a sackful of memories, but he knows it’s time to go.

“I loved coming down the tunnel, out onto the field. It’s a drug. It’s like you’re giving yourself an injection, the light, the supporters…

“I’ve given 12 years to the full-back line, and any fella will tell you about the pressure. Take Brian Murphy — the pressure that man was under was incredible, marking the top dog every day, and if Eoin Kelly or John Mullane gets a goal, he’s castigated.

“I’ve always believed in my own abilities going out on the field, that I could do a job. Even on the poor days I still believed that.”

The pressure comes in different forms.

“There are journalists but there are also what I call ‘computer hurlers’, fellas on websites criticising people. Their opinion doesn’t matter, and never has, but your family has that, they have to listen to radio stations reading out texts.

“I’d have felt a lot of hurt about that, but I’m a big boy, I can handle that.”

There was hurt last year. He nearly walked away after the Clare game but he stayed on for one last stand against Kilkenny.

“I had one thing on my mind for that game — my own performance. I know there were images of me crying and so on, that I’d retired — I had no decision made at that stage, I was just glad the season was over.

“The whole thing, the pressure — it was just relief that it was over. It was almost physical. Only for a couple of my close games I probably would have walked away after the Clare game, the criticism was so personal.

“That’s just how it is. In the last few weeks, for instance, I’ve met people who were criticising me all last season, yet they’ve been saying ‘when are you coming back’!”

He remembers the friends — Cork team trainer Jerry Wallace (“The work he put into me was nobody’s business”), his employers Lagans, his new mates in Highfield RFC (“They’ve been outstanding, I’m sorry I didn’t do it years ago”).

And his teammates. He e-mailed them yesterday with a simple message: they’d done it all, all together.

O’Sullivan is aware of how Cork are perceived after not one, but two
winters of discontent.

“People will always have their own opinions. Mistakes were made on all sides, and everybody would admit that — on all sides. Since 2002 people have built a persona up about this Cork team that they’re a law unto themselves. That’s not true.

“It’s always been about getting better. Teams prepare to give a performance, but it’s different in Cork, it’s different in Kilkenny. You’re preparing to win because you want to win. That’s what it has always been about, wanting to get to the top of the ladder.”

Having his father Jerry as Cork County Board chairman was another complication. “That was extremely difficult, but only once was it drawn into the gutter, by a certain man who got a phone call.

“My relationship with him has never been anything but unbelievable. He’d be the first person I’d talk to, for instance with this decision.

“Your family is your family. I’m
finished with intercounty hurling now, he’ll step down as county board chairman in a couple of years, he’ll look to new things and so will I. That’s part of life.”

O’Sullivan knows the rumour mill won’t be long cranking up, so he puts his retirement into an exact context.

“I said to (Cork manager) Denis Walsh a few weeks ago I wasn’t
interested in playing in the full-back line but felt I might have something to offer elsewhere on the field, we had a conversation about it.

“I went away, trained with Cloyne for a few weeks and when I spoke to him again he said they’d reviewed it and they’d decided to move on with the younger fellas.

“That’s fair enough, I knew that was the chance I was taking, and best of luck to them. Talking to the players, they’re very happy with him, and I even said to Denis on the phone today, ‘If you get these guys going in the right direction you will have the 30 most committed lads you’ll ever come across; this team can be very good for you and you can be very good for this team’. I think they can be an unbelievable combination.”

Good times? O’Sullivan and Cusack were strolling through Thurles after a game last year when a car pulled up and a voice echoed from within: “I didn’t see the two of ye since I carried you around Thurles.” It was Paul Shelley, reliving the 2000 Munster final. Other notables? The big man is generous.

“Colin Lynch has carried that Clare team for eight years on his own, since Daly and McMahon stepped down. Unbelievable. That’s a man I’d respect.

“Joe Canning — I consider myself a strong man but he just pushed me to one side last year and finished.

“The first player I’d buy for Cork if there was a transfer market would be Mullane. His commitment to Waterford in last year’s All-Ireland final (was) incredible. And a good man to talk out on the field, too.

“Shefflin has been incredible, too. What has he scored in the championship? He’s big, he’s physical, he can look after himself. Comerford, incredibly talented. Offaly, some of the best hurlers you’d meet in John Troy, the Dooleys. That’s the quality you’re up against.”

A last question about the good days gets an emphatic response.

“Highs? It’s a high every day you play for Cork. I have no regrets when it comes to hurling. None. You’re in that Cork jersey, you’re bulletproof.”

A champ and community hero

WHEN was the last time a world boxing champion did your washing up?

This column spent yesterday
morning with Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan, AFO world champ at light-middleweight, as he prepared for a bout tomorrow night in Cork against
former Polish middleweight champion Marcin Piatkowski.

O’Sullivan came to the attention of boxing cognoscenti when he was brought to the States to fatten Robert Harris’s record. After O’Sullivan had cracked a couple of Harris’s ribs to win in the first round, things changed.

He stayed on to train on the east coast, but not in just any old gym. The Corkman fetched up in Petronelli’s Gym in Brockton, Massachusetts. If you’re a fight fan of a certain vintage, you’ll associate Brockton and Petronelli’s with Marvin Hagler; it’s where he learned how to become Marvellous.

If you’re a fight fan of an even more certain vintage you’ll remember the Brockton Blockbuster himself, Rocco Marchegiano, or Rocky Marciano.

It was a dream come true for O’Sullivan to fight out of Brockton; his father Denis was a Marciano fan, and his mother Jacinta was a Hagler fan, but apart from the romance, there was reality. Petronelli’s is a finishing school for champions, and as O’Sullivan puts it, what he learned there he wouldn’t have been able to learn anywhere else.

When he came back to Leeside armed with his Brockton education, he was big box office, packing out Neptune Stadium with 2,500 supporters. When he fought in Boston he wasn’t short of support either, with plenty of Cork accents in the crowd. One of his pals lost his job when he told his boss he’d be heading to America to support Spike; when the pal returned and found another job, a similar dilemma arose for the next bout.

Another job lost. It’s all going O’Sullivan’s way: down the line he aims to go from light-middleweight to middleweight proper.

Tomorrow night’s bout is at a catch weight between light-middle and
middle, and good preparation for the step up.

The fight tomorrow night will also be broadcast live on the web by gofightlive.com, an internet company which has covered O’Sullivan’s previous fights. The medium-term plan is a world title shot; as a professional sportsman doing what he loves for a living, O’Sullivan puts his cards on the table: “I’m living the dream.”

THAT’S only half Spike’s story. He still lives in his home place, Mahon, a southside suburb of Cork that doesn’t always attract favourable media coverage, but he’s proud of where he comes from.

His sponsors — Conal’s Tree
Services and Wiser Bins — are local concerns, his two little girls Jacinta and Katie live there, as do his parents, and he’s been trying to give something back to the community.

He’s put a gymnasium together with his own hands, where he runs exercise classes for the locals, and the Lough Mahon Boxing Club, which has already sent out All-Ireland champions.

The likes of John and Peter Keane, James and John McDonagh and
Kathleen O’Reilly are the heroes of the future. More initiates in the
rigorous discipline of boxing. More potential role models.

O’Sullivan also gives something back by offering kids in the neighbourhood a good example, say community activists.

He’s a regular visitor to the Mahon Community Centre; when we walked in yesterday morning the
welcome from the ladies running the coffee shop was warm and genuine, and that’s where he did the washing up, rinsing out our cups.

“They’re unbelievable supporters,” says O’Sullivan. “When I fought in Dublin they booked out the whole Red Cow Hotel to follow me. They’re fantastic.”

O’Sullivan visited local schools
recently with his world championship belt and Denis Coffey, manager of the Mahon Community Centre, says the entire community got a boost.

“If I can show people what you can do with hard work and application, then great,” says the boxer.

There’s living the dream. And then there’s living the reality.

Contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

Cork crisis, 26 February 2009

February 26, 2009

Under-fire board left clinging to letter of the law

ON TUESDAY night the Cork County Board met and dismissed last Sunday’s meeting of players and club
officials in Cork as having “no standing” in the rules of the GAA.
The board added that suggestions it was “hiding” behind the rules were wrong.
Consider the backdrop to that meeting: last Sunday the 2008 hurlers received huge backing from the club chairmen and officials they invited to the meeting in the Maryborough House Hotel, with vocal condemnations from the floor of that meeting of the board’s modus operandi.
Last Friday GAA President-elect Christy Cooney and director-general Pauric Duffy made their peace proposals public, which would have removed from the executive all functions from picking senior intercounty managers to fixture planning.
Cooney is a former chairman of Cork County Board and has an intimate knowledge of its operations. What does that say about his co-authorship of that emasculating document?
Last Saturday fortnight over 10,000 people took to the streets of Cork to protest in support of last year’s panel, though soon afterwards there were suggestions that some or many of those people were not fully paid-up members of the GAA, even if anecdotal evidence undermined that particular notion.
Finally, in October of last year the 2008 panel put the board on notice that they would not play for Gerald McCarthy if reappointed.
Taken together, that forms a practically perfect circle of opposition around the executive of the Cork County Board.
From the top it has been condemned as not fit for purpose by the GAA hierarchy; from below it faces rebellion from its own clubs and members.
Its elite hurlers will not play for the board, while its elite footballers may be only six weeks away from joining those hurlers on the sidelines (if they don’t qualify for the league play-offs).
The suggestion that the marchers were semi-detached fans or Saturday shoppers has also rebounded spectacularly; if those marchers weren’t GAA members it’s yet another constituency the executive has alienated — the ‘casual’ fan.
The GAA elite, the GAA grassroots, the GAA’s top box-office draw, the GAA support: is there any group the Cork County Board can’t alienate?

The executive pointed to rule 59 of the official guide of the GAA last Tuesday night to underline their authority in this matter.
Surely somebody can point out that when you have to say you’re the authority on something because you can show where that’s written in a rulebook, then the show is over.
If you need to remind people of your authority then there’s a good reason why they’ve forgotten about it.
One of the most telling contributions to last Sunday’s meeting came when motions were being discussed, and one club official warned that those
motions would have to be worded perfectly.
He was contradicted by another speaker, who stressed that that
kind of nitpicking was part of the trouble.
That’s one of the most unattractive aspects of the GAA. Not so much the glorying in the technicalities — pedants thrive in every walk of life — but the fostering of a culture of fear in which initiatives must be parsed not so much for their advantages or disadvantages on merit but for the fine print of their legalese and the hollow joy of finding a drafting error or a procedural mistake.
There are alternatives to that
culture. Last Tuesday night a board delegate likened the Maryborough meeting to an election rally for Barack Obama, and he may have a point, but not in terms of choreography.
Obama’s favourite book is ‘Team of Rivals’, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s account of how Abraham Lincoln drew electoral opponents into his cabinet, getting them to work together and triumph over adversity.
In a county other than Cork
disparate elements looking to achieve reform could be drawn
together.
But only in a county other than Cork.

The day the boy warrior
Canning’s star sang

REMEMBER your Yeats.

It wasn’t a great hurling year by any means. It won’t linger the way 2007 does.

Kilkenny were deserved All-Ireland champions, but their obliteration of Waterford in the final had a sheen of efficiency and ruthlessness that you could admire but hardly love.

It didn’t have, for instance, the
poetry of a boy warrior in Thurles, performing heroics as the summer sun began to set.

The great WB slips a passing reference to “golden-thighed Pythagoras” into Among School Children, a
glittering phrase that stays bright for you long after the fog of your
schooldays disperses. It suggests power, skill and riches in one quick image, and if the by-heart stanzas of 20 years ago weren’t what we had in mind on that late July evening in Thurles,
immortal comparison soon was.

It was the game in which Joe
Canning announced his arrival, and golden didn’t seem treasured enough a comparison for him.

Beforehand there were questions. Canning impressed in Galway’s run to the league final. Having blithely cut sidelines over the bar in Croke Park as a minor, he proved against Cork in a league clash in Limerick that pitch
dimensions are the same for minor and senior.

The flight path of one sideline cut, taken from the shadow of the covered stand in the second half, was extraordinary: it wandered off-course initially before settling on a pitiless trajectory directly over the Cork crossbar.

It also reconfigured the rules,
signalling to every other county that a sideline in their own half against
Galway was a likely score conceded.

There had been a goal against
Tipperary in the league final — with his hurley fully extended, Canning beat Brendan Cummins while relying totally on his wrists. Lucky enough, Canning said afterwards. Luck is right.

But Galway manager Ger Loughnane had advised the Portumna teenager to mimic his clubmate Damien Hayes’ industry, and pace has always been present on the Canning charge sheet. Some suggested the trench warfare of Fitzgibbon Cup campaigns doesn’t compare to the
cavalry charges of high summer, and by the time July rolled around Galway had played Laois and Antrim before taking the field against Cork.

In Thurles. Where else can these kinds of questions be asked? Where else can they be answered?

Canning wrote the first chapter of his senior intercounty career in
lightning that night with a tally of 2-12.

His first goal was a triumph of strength, holding off an uncharitable Diarmuid O’Sullivan as he bore down on goal, and of deftness, improvising an emphatic forehand smash to the net.

Just before the break Canning helped to free Alan Kerins near the Cork goal, and when Donal Óg Cusack floored Kerins, the keeper was off for a second yellow card.

Canning took the resultant penalty. Ring always said he aimed at the funkiest player on the line, but
Canning picked the coldest: substitute keeper Martin Coleman was just on the field and the Galwayman stitched the ball past him. Galway, or Joe
Canning, 2-5, Cork 0-9.

After half-time Canning added three of the first points of the second half and Galway were four up.

The pace question didn’t arise. The Galwayman worked at his own speed, creating a force field any time the ball came near him to operate on his own clock: Canning time. He gathered the ball and tilted to lean away from his marker, flexing those golden wrists to put the ball exactly where he wanted.

Even the fact that it was a summer evening added to the occasion. Rather than the harsh spotlight of an afternoon throw-in, there was a memorable tint to proceedings, players bright on one side, facing the sun, and long shadows stretching away on the other.

It wasn’t just about Canning that evening, after all. One observer thought the Cork display was one of the greatest displays he’d ever seen,
isolating a second-half incident when ball came down into Cork’s right corner — right out of the sun — and fell between Cork’s Shane O’Neill and Galway’s Ger Farragher.

Farragher lost the ball in the sun but O’Neill didn’t.

“He caught it and he was snorting like a bull as he was driving forward,” said the observer, one Ger Loughnane.

Ben O’Connor and Joe Deane drove Cork to an improbable lead, but as the effort told, Canning joined brawn to accuracy. He hit three points into the Town End as time ticked away, but Cork survived. Deane won a late, late free out on the left wing and the game was up.

After the final whistle that evening in Thurles, delirious Cork supporters
invaded the field. They had massed on the sidelines and surged on to celebrate victory rather than, as it looked at half-time, line up for a wake. The players in red struggled into the dressing-room area one at a time, and each shook a fist at the crowds hanging over the entrance to the Semple Stadium tunnel, each of them lauded in turn.

For much of that time Canning was out on the field, signing autographs, not all of them for kids in maroon. Then he came back to the stadium tunnel, and he passed us, sweat still rolling down his face. An enterprising photographer took a picture of him trudging to the Galway dressing-room.

The shoulders are slumped and the head is down, while Thor’s hammer drags along the ground. The great melody is still.

But while he was on the field … it was what a star sang, Yeats might have said. What a careless muse heard.

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).

The gods make
their own
importance

Nickey Brennan: says the GAA won’t be getting involved in Cork dispute.

PATRICK KAVANAGH could have offered the right description of the Cork hurling crisis, the kind of local row which sparked the Illiad in Homer’s mind.

That undersells the newsprint and airtime generated this time round, of course — this instalment of the row has sparked enough chat and observation to fill the Odyssey as well, and you’d have a fair chance of completing the word count for the Aeneid while you’re at it.

Everybody has an opinion on the matter they’re willing to share, and
it’s unfortunate that some of those
offerings aren’t entirely helpful.

Take a step back from the immediate combatants and consider some of the contributions from the GAA
hierarchy in recent weeks.

Last week Director-General Paraic Duffy described the contretemps on Leeside as relating to local circumstances rather than being a national trend.

President Nickey Brennan concurred and expanded: “From a GAA perspective, that’s a local Cork issue now and they’ll have to deal with it locally. . . what happened earlier this year is well known. We got involved and we’re not getting involved on this occasion.”

Too late. The world’s most eagerly anticipated challenge game, the St Colman’s Legends v Cork match fixed for November 23rd, has fallen by the wayside due to the new GAA ban on all collective inter-county activity,
including training and challenge games, during the months of November and December. Could that be read as involvement?

The chairman of the Central
Competitions Control Committee (CCCC), Jimmy Dunne, said on Wednesday night: “A number of counties have applied to play challenge matches during this so-called closed season and all those requests were turned down by the CCCC.”

The timing of the announcement is particularly unfortunate, given that Nickey Brennan insisted only last week that the fixture in Fermoy would be exempt from the new
ruling: “We are allowing trial games on a limited basis and we are viewing this match as a trial game.

“This is very much a special occasion which is being played to honour the considerable contribution of St Colman’s College to hurling in Cork. We are taking the spirit of why the game is being played into account.”

The reasoning behind the playing and training ban — to lessen the threat of player burnout — is an irony that need not delay us here unduly.

What is worth examining is whether the GAA hierarchy are sure if this is a total ban or not, whether they have any appetite for enforcing it, or whether — as it seems — this is an ad hoc arrangement with guidelines
being improvised on the hoof. Whichever it is, it seems strange that the President of the GAA is making statements affirming that certain games are going ahead while one of the most powerful committees in the Association is ruling out those matches.

We’ve had those contradictions served up before. Last December Nickey Brennan commented on the last stand-off in Cork GAA circles, saying: “This is an internal situation for Cork which we are not getting
involved in.

“We believe that there are enough wise heads on both sides to sort the matter out and I would be very
confident that the matter will be
resolved quite soon.”

By early February Brennan had asked Kieran Mulvey of the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) to intervene in the dispute, a move which, in fairness, eventually led to the strike being resolved.

In the meantime, at the time of going to press yesterday St Colman’s had not received any official contact from Croke Park regarding the postponement of the game, while on Wednesday night Cork County Board chairman Mick Dolan admitted that he was in the dark regarding the fixture.

Kavanagh was right when he said gods make their own importance.

contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie