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14 February 2008 Edition

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Matt Treacy

Cork’s appalling vista

AS ANOTHER Antrim forward was dispossessed by a Dublin back, a frustrated Belfast voice was heard to lament the lack of sharpness that had been on display in the Walsh Cup. To which a Dub standing in front of him responded: “Ah, go easy on them. They’re not playing Kilkenny now.” It did at least raise a few smiles.
It was a frustrating afternoon for Antrim and another demonstration perhaps of the difficulty of preparing teams during the pre-season. Antrim’s victory in the Walsh Cup was a worthwhile achievement but I suspect they would have swapped it for two points last Sunday in a division in which points are going to be hard come by.
Dublin had fielded a weakened team for the Walsh Cup and pulled out of a Shield match with Westmeath. Preparations were made in winter training and with a good win over Clare in a challenge, and the fruits of that were on display in Parnell Park. Dublin are sharper, stronger and more experienced than last year.
And they will need to be if they are to survive for a second year in succession in the top flight and perhaps reach a Leinster final for the first time since 1991. The first big test of that will come on Sunday in Kilkenny when they meet the All-Ireland champions who will be seeking to avenge last year’s slight loss of caste and to remind the Dubs of the mountain they still have to climb to attain the Olympian heights inhabited by Brian Cody’s men. Odds of 8/1 against Dublin are not overly generous and the faithful will be travelling more in hope than in expectation.
Antrim, meanwhile, have Wexford at home. The latter will be confident after a morale-boosting win over Waterford last weekend and Antrim, with away games against the Cats and Waterford to come, really need to win this one if they are to stay in 1A. There is still the potential comfort blanket of Cork being automatically relegated but even with that Antrim will do well to avoid one of the relegation spots.

DUBLIN and Antrim supporters who tuned in to Sunday Sport on RTÉ 2 last Sunday expecting to see, as advertised, the highlights of the Parnell Park game were disappointed instead to be provided with live coverage, courtesy of Marty Morrissey, of the latest episode in the Cork debacle.
Another potential solution to the players’ strike had been presented at a meeting but it was turned down and so, instead of watching lads who would sacrifice most of their body parts for the sky blue and saffron, we had the exceptional treat of listening to Cork chaps explaining why they refuse to contaminate themselves with the ‘Blood and Bandages’. Surreal stuff. Personally, I’d rather watch people playing hurling than talking about why they won’t play hurling.
Apparently, apart from deciding that they were not prepared to move an inch, the footballers also proposed – in a flight of uncommon sense – that the hurlers would fulfil their fixtures. This was put to the hurling panel in a secret ballot but they unanimously decided not to do the whole blackleg miner thing on it. The outlook seemed bleaker than ever.

There was a rumour on Monday that the County Board would pick players other than those on strike to play Dublin in the football league and the Waterford hurlers but that kite did not fly. Indeed it would possibly make things even worse by drawing up new lines of dispute between the current panel and the “scabs” and indeed within the clubs from which the alternative panels would have to be selected. It would also be fairly certain that both teams would be well beaten which might not help matters either although there is a substantial body of opinion within Cork that any hiding by the Dubs or Déise would be preferable to the unspeakable shame of not turning up.
Then late on Tuesday it was announced that the Cork County Board had decided by a substantial majority to accept a resort to independent and binding arbitration. That means that the issue would be looked at by a third party, not Kieran Mulvey, and that whatever proposal he or she would make would have to be accepted by both sides. It is a device used where there are irreconcilable differences between two parties in industrial disputes.
As we went to print there was still no response by the Cork players, who were to meet some time on Wednesday. It certainly puts the ball, if you pardon the pun, right back at their feet. If they do not accept the proposal they will look like the intransigent party and it will undermine whatever credibility and support which they have among the wider community.
If they do accept the proposal then they, along with the County Board, will be accepting that they are going to have to concede something which they have refused to so far. The crucial issue is the appointment of Teddy Holland as football manager and the method of his selection. That will form the centre of any proposed settlement. Either he stays or he goes. Or he stays but only for a limited period and only with the proviso of concessions to the players on the method of selecting team management.
The danger of course for both sides is that the decision might be seen to give more to one side than the other and that they would have no choice but to accept it. That is a bigger pressure on the players as it was they who initiated the whole business and if they are seen to return without gaining their main objectives then they will seen to have been defeated, no matter what the spin will be.
So it is by no means guaranteed that they will agree to this, although it would be worse for them not to and it would mean that the conflict has beyond any reasonable hope of resolution. And that would raise the spectre of Cork not participating in the senior championship. 

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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