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Cork players deserve our support
by Brian Murphy, 31 January 2008

Cork players deserve our support

Cork GAA stands on the edge of a precipice. Three months of bitter deadlock has served only to deepen the wounds that have been festering on Leeside for years. The county board and the players - both the hurlers and footballers - have managed to get themselves in a bloody fine mess.

Week after week, we have been promised a resolution, and week after week we have been disappointed. The public is slowly becoming more and more fatigued by the protracted saga. A middle ground to the dispute needs to be found - and fast.

However, after Wednesday’s postponement of their NFL clash with Meath, a resolution seems more remote than ever. Essentially, one more strike, as the saying goes, and Cork are out. If they fail to fulfil another league game they will be excluded from the competition and relegated to Division Three.

It’s not the first time we have mentioned a potential D-day in the last few weeks. The hurlers were due to play in the Waterford Crystal Cup against LIT in early January and failed to turn up. This Saturday coming, when Cork were originally due to meet Meath, was earmarked as another day of reckoning. But the GAA, in its infinite wisdom, gave Cork a lifeline by calling the match off. It effectively gives Cork another week to hammer out some sort of compromise.

GAA President Nickey Brennan contacted chief executive of the Labour Relations Commission, Kieran Mulvey, to come in and mediate the dispute last weekend. The 18-hour meeting appears to have simply reinforced the fault lines that run through the relationship between the players and the county board. Mulvey left Cork disillusioned and on Thursday vowed not to return unless there was some glimpse of a resolution. For that to happen, concessions need to be made. You’ll see snowmen in the Sahara before a Corkman admits he’s wrong.

It was a pretty damning indictment of the manner in which the GAA is governed in the county when the country’s pre-eminent dispute mediator was required to resolve a sporting matter. The move also smacked of desperation from Brennan. The GAA has to be held responsible for the part they have played in the whole mess. Firstly, their willingness to accommodate Cork’s every whim over the last few months. What Cork wants, Cork gets as far as the GAA is concerned. Can you imagine the GAA doing the same favours for one of the weaker counties? I don’t think so.

Prior to Mulvey’s arrival on the scene, Brennan reiterated his belief that this was essentially an “internal dispute” that would be resolved by fellas “who were around long enough” to sort the thing out themselves. In my blog before Christmas, I warned that if the matter was not addressed before the festive period and the players’ holiday in South America, then this would become everyone’s problem.

I’m no Nostradamus, but guess what, it has. The problem first emerged last November, and it was mid-January before we got a response from the GAA. Now, it’s much more than just a Cork issue. Meath prepared for a clash with Cork in the league, and likewise the hurlers from Kilkenny, but now they are in limbo, and that is unfair. Brennan’s desire to placate Frank Murphy and his nabobs is starting to come back and haunt him.

I don’t wish to revisit the last three months here, but my thoughts are increasingly being swayed towards empathy with the Cork players. I don’t believe that one member of the Cork county board has behaved in an altogether honest manner throughout the negotiations.

Their tactics have been, at times, underhand and more often than not designed only to wrest the power back that they surrendered in 2002. The decision to put the manner whereby selectors are chosen before club delegates was done without any prior warning. Delegates were not given sufficient time to tease out the issue and digest the ramifications before it was put to a vote. Granted, the matter was revisited, but asking club delegates to make such decisions is a bit like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas.

Cork’s clubs have a vested interest in being represented on the selection panel. The refrain from Cork supporters prior to 2002 was that the right players were not being chosen to represent the county. That deficiency was addressed when the new system of a manager selecting his own backroom team was adopted. Now that the clubs have the power back in their hands, it is not guaranteed that teams will be picked to represent the Rebels with the best interests of the county in mind.

When the county board offered to revisit that decision in November 2008, the players refused the olive branch. And you can’t blame them for it. The players have been accused of shifting the goalposts, insisting that the appointment of new manager Teddy Holland was the central plank of their refusal to accept the new policy. The reality is that the two matters are linked. The players asked the county board not to appoint a manger until the selectors issue was resolved but Frank Murphy et al did their own thing anyway.

The players claim other managers were interested in taking up the post at the time but were scared off by the strike being threatened; the county board claims otherwise. Teddy Holland took the job in the knowledge that the players were not happy with the timing of his appointment. They are now refusing to play under him and his position is now untenable. Teddy Holland needs to do the honourable thing and resign immediately.

Last Monday morning, the about-turn, in my opinion, on the matter was complete. After talks with Mulvey proved fruitless, the document he had set out to achieve a resolution was leaked to the Irish Examiner. The players had nothing to gain from the leak, while the county board saw it as a way of winning over the hearts and minds of the Cork GAA public. The ploy was see-through. The county board claimed it had acceded to all the outlined demands, while the players made some impossible demands.

The players’ demands included a representative on the county board executive and the power to appoint a former player of their own choice on the selection committee. It was a step too far and the point where talks broke down. The document then somehow made it into the public sphere.

Speaking on Thursday afternoon, Mulvey has vowed not to return to Cork unless he is given some indication that the sides are willing to negotiate.

I’ll save you the trip Kieran, stay at home. These Rebels are not for turning.

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