Friday 15 December 2017

Martin Breheny: Cork's 2010 All-Ireland was vastly overrated - and scapegoating the county board won't change that

Scapegoating board for team failures allows others to dodge responsibility

Cork players, from left, Ray Carey, Paudie Kissane, Paddy Kelly, Nicholas Murphy, Pearse O'Neill, Aidan Walsh and goalkeeper Alan Quirke with county secretary Frank Murphy, celebrate after the game in 2010
Cork players, from left, Ray Carey, Paudie Kissane, Paddy Kelly, Nicholas Murphy, Pearse O'Neill, Aidan Walsh and goalkeeper Alan Quirke with county secretary Frank Murphy, celebrate after the game in 2010
The blame for Cork’s troubles is often wrongly pinned on county secretary Frank Murphy with many saying the focus has been on Páirc Ui Chaoímh’s redevelopment (artist’s impression above), to the detriment of the county’s hurling and football teams
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Back in 1980, Welsh wing-forward Paul Ringer became something of a pariah in rugby after being sent off by Irish referee Dave Burnett for a late tackle on English out-half John Horton in a Five Nations game (Italy weren't aboard then).

Dismissals are quite common in rugby nowadays but, as Ringer's team-mate Graham Price recalled recently, it was different in the 1980s.

"In those days, referees didn't tend to send players off, no matter what they did," he said.

Ringer was the first player to be sent off in Twickenham for 55 years and, as well as drawing the disapproval of the stuffier wing of the rugby establishment, it made him unpopular among Welsh fans also as England won by a point.


Shortly afterwards, Welsh comedian Max Boyce wrote a very witty song, which held Ringer responsible for everything from rampant inflation to bad weather to high unemployment figures. Boyce cleverly spotted that Ringer could be made into a scapegoat for just about anything and finished each verse with the refrain.

'Let Ringer take the blame, let Ringer take the blame . . .'

I'm reminded of that when I hear or read anything about Cork GAA, in particular why their county teams aren't doing better, something that's coming under close scrutiny after some barren times. Analysis of Cork invariably slides towards administration, followed by the conclusion that the county board is responsible for the title drought.

Frank Murphy: long-serving official
Frank Murphy: long-serving official

It's usually accompanied by talk of people being in power for too long, And while few are prepared to name names (why not if they have such conviction on the issue?), the obvious conclusion is that they are referring mainly to county secretary, Frank Murphy. He is the longest serving of all and, as a full-time official, carries a lot of influence.

So when the discussion moves to 'people being in power for too long', you can take it that, in most instances, Murphy is the subject. Isn't it very convenient all the same to have a handy scapegoat, where length of service is the main basis for complaint? Doesn't it even smack of ageism? And where's the documented evidence to back it up?

Here's the thing. Murphy and the rest of the county board remain answerable to the clubs, just as other administrations are around the country. If clubs anywhere are unhappy with county boards, they can take action. As for full- time officials, they have to carry out instructions given to them by the board. Therefore - whether in Cork or elsewhere - if clubs aren't satisfied with how a county is being run, they have the power to change it. That will, of course, will be portrayed as a naive assessment but it's no less true for that. Quite simply, ultimate power rests with the clubs and if they don't exercise it, the failing is theirs alone.

The decline of Cork footballers and hurlers in recent years is being increasingly attributed to alleged failures by the county board.

And since Páirc Uí Chaoimh is being redeveloped, the follow-on argument holds that too much attention is devoted to the building project at the expense of other activities. It's an easy claim but doesn't become necessarily true just because it's repeated often enough.

The decline of Cork footballers, from a group who were supposed to be in the early stages of major empire-building as All-Ireland winners in 2010 to dropping into Division 2 and losing to Tipperary in the Munster Championship last year, has been used an example of how things have gone so seriously wrong on Leeside.

The inference is that the board failed to provide the conditions for a major advance at a time when Cork football was riding high.

Those who make that case are forgetting something: Cork 2010 was vastly overrated. That year's championship was surely the worst for years, where all four provincial champions were beaten in the All-Ireland quarter-finals, something that has not happened since.

Cork won the final with a one-point win over Down, who were beaten by Wicklow in 2009 and who dipped quickly again after 2010.

The notion that Cork's failure to build on 2010 is down solely to off-field circumstances might be convenient but where's the evidence?

In truth, that squad was fortunate to win one All-Ireland. Scapegoating others won't change that.

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