Softly, softly approach needed to end this uncivil war
The league opened with dramatic fireworks in Croke Park last night, but the build-up to the new campaign has been overshadowed by events in Cork.
It is the dark shadow which threatens the GAA at large, a local squabble with much wider implications, especially if the footballers decide to stick their oar in.
Meath, with new management, a new team and, like everyone else, fresh hope, head south today to a place which is at war with itself -- and a very uncivil war at that. The game is in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, a ground which seems to mirror this dispute as it badly needs a complete revamp. It has grown old and shoddy, crying out for a new approach.
The dressing rooms are the worst and smallest that were ever put into any ground, club or county. But then players are expected to endure whatever discomfort comes their way in the interest of the jersey.
As long as I can remember there have been more problems in Cork than any other county. Going back to the three stripes affair in the 1970s and right through to the present day, an unhealthy atmosphere seemed to prevail between players and their own county board. In general, players everywhere have little time for county boards. They have tunnel vision and only see the next big game, so it is preparation and planning that dominates their lives and they have scant regard for the politics of county boards, committees, sub-committees and bye-laws.
Yet while most players will have some gripe with their county board, it always seemed strange to me that the most condemnatory group towards their own board was the Cork players.
So something has been rotten in Cork for a long time and it has now become a running sore. Over the last ten years, for example, Cork have been opposed to many of the crucial decisions in the GAA, including opening up Croke Park and allowing GAA members to join the police in Northern Ireland. I have said before that I find it hard to accept that these views represented those of the ordinary GAA members in Cork, who are just as open and inclusive as anywhere else in the country.
There is no point in blaming the board either, though. The reality is that in most counties a few people make the decisions and the rest follow. That policy which has run for a long time by the Lee is at least one of the main reasons why the chickens are coming home to roost in Cork now. If people are kicked around long enough they eventually bite back -- even if they can go over the top a bit. In the rest of the country, GAA people are throwing their hands up and saying 'to hell with Cork, let's get on with the games without them'.
This dispute must be resolved, not just because Cork are a powerful force, but because the GAA cannot afford division. And from this dispute should come the blueprint by which all managerial appointments are made. If Meath players wished, they could have similar grievances to Cork, with all the messing over the managerial vacancy last year. Obviously the cuts in Cork are much deeper.
I have tended to side with the players in the past as I could understand where they were coming from and county board delegates in general have little idea of what is involved in running a county team.
Yet for all that there must be compromise on both sides. I have also said in the past that I could never understand why any manager would want to stay on in a position where he was not wanted, but sometimes in the middle of a war people cannot see the wood for the trees.
At this stage there are enough great Cork GAA people to broker a deal (and Christy Cooney should not wash his hands of it as it would not look good for his coronation in Cork at Easter). The players may have to live with Gerald McCarthy as nominal manager while others are brought in to smooth the waves. Teddy McCarthy should drop out, he is doing his own son no favours being involved when he is trying to break into the team. Perhaps too Donal óg Cusack and one or two others should stand aside for this year.
At the end of the present season, a new group, independent of the county board -- and Cork is full of the right people -- could make a recommendation on a new manager. These men, like Caesar's wife, would have to be above suspicion, but the Cork public are clamouring for such a group who would ensure no repeat of the present impasse. And the biggest sacrifice of all will have to come from board secretary Frank Murphy. He will have to ride off into the sunset too or there will be no peace in our time.
The players have fought the good fight but they now must examine other options.
There is no point in taking principles too far; a man with too many principles can easily become a fanatic, and they don't solve problems.
I am quite sure most of the players never wanted it to come to this and feel they can't blink or else they lose face. Well, it would be worse to destroy themselves in a war they have already won.
They need to talk and I would be very surprised if Jerry O'Sullivan, the county chairman, would be anything but a welcoming ear. Having two sons involved must place him in the most invidious position of all and the stress levels on each side must be at dangerously unhealthy levels. It is time for the loud, wild and whirling words to finish.
The players will all achieve greater dignity and respect by backing off a little while Gerald McCarthy needs to be willing to bring in a couple of good front men and then take his leave before the end of the year. That is the quid pro quo.
There is no absolute right on either side. This is a time to speak softly and no need to carry a big stick either.