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29 January 2009 Edition

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More than a game BY MATT TREACY






Civil war in Cork

WHATEVER chance there was of a resolution to the Cork hurling dispute seems to have been blown out of the water by the extraordinary statement and press conference by the 2008 panel on Monday night.
Mind you, there could have been little hope prior to that, given that the footballers had indicated that they might join Donal Óg and the boys on the picket line and the Examiner had published an interview with former Kilkenny great Eddie Keher on the Monday morning basically calling the players a bunch of jibbers who had “lost the run of themselves”. Now if there’s one way to antagonise a Cork hurler it’s to have a Kilkenny hurler slag him off. And in the Examiner of all places!
The players’ statement is a lengthy explanation of the reasons why they are on strike. It is two parts legalese to one part sticking the boot into Gerald McCarthy and, more so, County Secretary Frank Murphy. However, what was actually said by some of the players at the Maryborough House Hotel was even more damaging and personal, but we will come to that anon.

AS I said, the statement is extraordinary and at times reading it you have to remind yourself that this is about a county hurling team and not a dispute involving higher civil servants or airline pilots.
The players reiterate their reasons for striking and their animus against the above-named, and the only potentially new factor is their invitation to the Cork clubs to send their chairpersons to meet with them.
In so doing they state that if such a meeting, which they apparently would take as representing “the wishes of the Cork GAA public” were to indicate that the clubs were backing Murphy and McCarthy then the 2008 panel would “disband”.
A reasonable offer, one might have thought, especially given that such a meeting would very likely go against the players at this stage. But there is a sting in the tail: the players go on to call on the members of the clubs “to take back control of their organisation and to accept that the responsibility for a resolution of this situation actually resides with them”.
In effect, the players are calling on the clubs to overthrow the current County Executive led by Murphy and form a new County Board. Given that the current board, made up of delegates from those self-same clubs, have already backed McCarthy – and thereby presumably represented “the wishes of the Cork GAA public” – it can mean nothing less.
So, while the players state that they “do not want to choose our own manager”, they do want to choose the County Board! Or at least that is the implication that can be taken from what they have said and no doubt that is the exact interpretation that will be made by the wily Mr Murphy.
If anything, the players have upped the ante and added to the suspicion that the dispute over the manager is really only a pretext for their real agenda of getting rid of Frank Murphy. One Cork chap said to me a few weeks ago that the attitude of some of the senior players is that they know themselves that their inter-county careers are over but that they want to ensure that when they go Murphy goes.

WHETHER or not McCarthy was the initial target, the players have certainly made him central and Gerald has taken up the gauntlet in no uncertain manner, ensuring that the dispute has become deeply personal, and presumably hurtful. In that respect, it has to be said that the players did themselves no favours by some of their comments on Monday.
Substitute goalkeeper Martin Coleman complained that McCarthy got his name wrong at training! Jeez, Marie! I mean, come on!
And others accused him of not knowing who they were at all or what club they played for.
Added to accusations that his preparations for their Munster clash with Tipp were, at best, amateurish it all went to paint a picture of McCarthy as a bumbling and perhaps senile incompetent. There is surely no way back from that.

IT has to be said that – at least in PR terms, as I know nothing of what is going on in the nasty squabble being fought through rumour and innuendo – McCarthy comes across much better and the players are badly mistaken, I think, if they believe (as they apparently do) that the supporters are still behind them.
McCarthy has now stated that he is no longer interested in accommodating the 2008 squad and has ploughed on with a wholly new panel which was beaten by Limerick in a challenge match on Sunday.
Indeed, looking at that team indicates the depth and bitterness of the civil war in Cork.
There were no players from Newtownshandrum, home of the McCarthys, none from Donal Óg and the Rock’s Cloyne and none from Seán Óg’s na Piarsaigh. Significantly, however, there were a number of players from city teams like the Glen, Finbarr’s, county champions Sarsfield’s and Blackrock, and from Cloyne’s neighbours in Midleton. If McCarthy has these clubs on his side he will win.

WHERE it goes from here is anyone’s guess. Cork play Dublin in their first league game on 8 February and face the prospect of relegation to Division Two, but that would be nothing to the ignominy of fielding a team to be taken apart in the senior championship come June.
Their first game is against Tipp in Thurles and while any Cork side will give its all faced with the old enemy, nothing other than defeat and probably a bad one is foreseeable at this stage unless the new team surprises everyone over the next few months.
Much as I would not resent Dublin beating a weakened Cork in our own selfish interests, it would be a crying shame if some of the best hurlers we have seen in the past 30 years drag their county team further into an unwinnable and shameful debacle.
Back to the hurling, boys, and leave the committee squabbling to the oul fellas.

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