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.



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).

Y OU can forget the Lisbon
Treaty. You can forget the
Democratic primaries. The most pressing question of the last few months was answered in Páirc Uí Chaoimh yesterday. Tipp are back, asserting themselves after early nerves to beat Cork in the Munster SHC in front of 42,823 spectators. Not a focus group or a super-delegate in sight.

In real terms Tipp have never really gone away, but yesterday had an air of revival all the same. The blue and gold supporters can look forward to a long hot summer, and the lyrics of Slievenamon will be echoing far beyond Páirc Uí Chaoimh in the next couple of months.

Though Cork threw starting debuts to two of their full-forward line, it was their old guard who conjured a goal early on. Timmy McCarthy broke the ball towards Ben O’Connor, who found an avenue through the Tipperary defence slightly wider than the Marina. One-on-one with Brendan Cummins, the Cork man held his nerve to finish calmly to the net.

With Cathal Naughton flummoxing Tipperary by operating in the middle of the field, Cork were on top, and the evidence was empirical: over 17 minutes had gone before the first chant of Tipp-Tipp-Tipp was heard.

“We showed a bit of nerves,” said Tipp boss Liam Sheedy, referring to his side’s rocky opening. “No matter how you do in the league, the Munster championship is a different animal. We were a bit jittery early on.”

True enough. Cork were rampant, running up a seven-point lead, but anyone expecting a collapse from the Premier was disappointed. Lar Corbett used his pace to range to and fro in front of the City End, and Eamonn Corcoran and Shane Maher came into the play. When a Seamus Callinan shot was half-blocked it ran to Eoin Kelly on the 21. The Mullinahone man was well-marshalled in the first half by Brian Murphy apart from those couple of heartbeats in the 24th minute; that’s all the time he needed to test the rigging.

“Eoin’s goal was the vital score,” said Sheedy. “The game might have been slipping a bit from us then, and if Cork had slipped over another point or two at that stage…”

At half-time there was a point in it (1-8 to 1-7). The game wasn’t in the melting-pot so much as the saucepan they use to melt down the other melting-pots.

Naughton blazed through for a point on the restart; Seamus Callinan retorted. Cork may draw comfort this morning from the great save Pa Cronin forced from Brendan Cummins, but three wides in a row saw the initiative slip away from them.

If the second half had a turning point it came on 42 minutes, when Pa Cronin won a Cork penalty. Surprisingly, debutant Paudie O’Sullivan took it, only for Cummins to save. In a neat reversal of 2005, when a Donal Óg Cusack penalty save spurred Cork to victory, Tipperary drew strength from Cummins’ stop, and their defence began to get on top.

Lar Corbett bore down on goal and was grounded in desperation. Seamus Callinan was winning more and more ball. With Tipp’s half-backs resolute, the supply improved to Eoin Kelly with inevitable results.

As Ol’ Blue Eyes never sang, Kelly and scores go together like a horse and carriage. Even the couple of hundred auxiliary Cork men forced to watch the game from the pitch perimeter — having been allowed out of the Blackrock Terrace by the gardaí — would have been hard pressed to keep him quiet had they been allowed beyond the whitewash.

At the end there was six points in it, and the Tipperary support drank in the victory as only Tipp fans can.

Cork will face a chorus of second-guessing: about the strike, about their selection, about their substitutions, about the decision to go for a goal from their penalty, but their real worry will be the lack of a second wind. This is the second time in 12 months that Tipperary have outpaced them coming down the stretch.

Having scored four points in the second half — and replaced four of their forwards during the game — they’ll hope improving their shot selection will bring them back into contention. If results go according to expectations they’ll face Waterford next month, a game that now assumes huge significance for both teams, as the losing side is likely to break up and face a rebuilding process.

A disappointed John Gardiner agreed with the Tipperary boss that Eoin Kelly’s goal had been critical.

“The first 10 or 15 minutes went well for us,” said the Cork captain. “But then Tipp turned the tables. The goal was the main turning point.”

“At the end we were chasing the game,” said his manager, Gerald McCarthy. “We tried very hard to turn it around, we made a lot of substitutions, but it just didn’t happen for us.”

For Tipperary the news is better, obviously enough. Liam Sheedy had his face to the heavens as the clock wound down yesterday, but divine intervention wasn’t needed.

“We finished quite strong,” said Sheedy. “We played a lot of tight games in the league, and I think that stood to us in the last 15 minutes. We’ve a lot of work done, and every one of them who went on the pitch today did well.”

Though Sheedy was careful to rein in expectations — he referred to Cork’s wides tally, pointing out that the game might have ended differently had the Rebels been more accurate — but even the downside can be given a positive spin.

The jittery opening Tipp went through yesterday can be improved for the Munster final. Shane McGrath confirmed the promise of spring. And the Premier County now look to have momentum, a handy asset facing into the high summer.

Cork bet. The hay saved. And better yet to come?