Sunday 22 April 2018

The long goodbye for Cork GAA's grand master

Board's 12-month extension means Murphy's Law will continue for an incredible 45 years

Cork County Board secretary Frank Murphy (right) sits alongside former Cork football boss Peadar Healy, left, ahead of their Munster SFC semifinal against Tipperary at Pairc Ui Rinn last summer. Photo: Dan Sheridan/INPHO. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Cork County Board secretary Frank Murphy (right) sits alongside former Cork football boss Peadar Healy, left, ahead of their Munster SFC semifinal against Tipperary at Pairc Ui Rinn last summer. Photo: Dan Sheridan/INPHO. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Delegates to Cork County Board and supporters across the county could have been forgiven on Tuesday night if they felt a sense of deja-vu about the announcement that Frank Murphy was to have his contract as secretary extended by a further year and that in June the process to replace him would commence.

Sound familiar? That's because such a declaration has been made before, three times since this, the longest of long goodbyes, began in September 2009.

That was just six months after the third and most bruising of the three players' strikes that had dotted the noughties had ended with Gerald McCarthy's resignation as hurling manager, more than four months after McCarthy had been met by a group of players in late October 2008 urging him not to press ahead with a third year in charge as proposed by the relevant appointments committee.

McCarthy dug his heels in however and hung on, with board backing, for longer than anyone could have expected. But the players stood firm and eventually he backed down.

He was bruised but, for the third time in seven years, Murphy and the executive had to make big concessions too.

With a newly-formed Club Forum pitching as a more accurate reflection of club sentiment across the county as opposed to the delegates who were representing them at board meetings each month, drawing up a raft of proposals for the convention the following December, Murphy appeared to be facing headwinds.

Thus, an exit strategy, as he turned 65, appeared to be in place - he'd go on for a year with the option to extend for a further year after that.

Tributes

Tributes flowed. GAA director-general Páraic Duffy commended his work on the drafting of rules.

But when 2011 came there was a further year extension when then chairman Jerry O'Sullivan, vice-chairman Bob Ryan and treasurer Pearse Murphy requested him to stay on for a further year to oversee the proposed redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

"He has been involved in that process from the start and it is quite a complicated process.

"He is a very experienced man and has his finger on the pulse in that regard. So given the amount of work we have still to do on that, we felt it was important to have him stay involved. There is a process laid down now to find his successor and we will work hard at that next year," said O'Sullivan.

But by 2012 the Páirc Uí Chaoimh redevelopment proposals were accelerating and a decision was taken to extend Murphy's tenure by a further five years to coincide with the stadium work.

An administrative role, later filled by Diarmuid O'Donovan, was created to ease the workload around fixtures, the servicing of inter-county teams and full-time coaches but the responsibility for administrative, policy and financial matters still rested with Frank Murphy - a man who has been secretary since 1972.

With Páirc Uí Chaoimh completed to a high specification in July and a stadium manager - the former chairman Ryan - in place, the expectation was that the long-serving Murphy (now 73) would step aside.

But at the September meeting it became clear to delegates that a further proposal was in the pipeline and at Monday night's meeting a further one-year extension was granted. The manner of that extension probably reflected the apparent disconnect between the board and its clubs as accurately as anything in the past.

One of the proposals driven by the Club Forum eight years earlier was that any issue on the clár of a county board meeting that required a vote needed five days' notice to clubs in advance of a meeting.

This would, theoretically, allow clubs to discuss and subsequently mandate their delegate in accordance with a decision taken.

But for Monday night's meeting a reference to staffing matters, beside an explanation in Irish, was all the notification that clubs received on the issue. Nothing more was elaborated on.

The latest 12-month extension was presented as a fait accompli but is that a board executive's prerogative on such a matter of importance?

Surely any executive decision taken is just a recommendation until a full board ratifies it?

Cork's by-laws allow for five-day written notice of any potential vote but in this case, it wasn't given and no vote was put to the floor, despite some dissenting voices.There are favourable circumstances as to why Murphy should remain in place for a further year.

Tying up the loose ends with the stadium redevelopment is important while the departure of Pearse Murphy, treasurer since the late 1990s, would leave a huge void of experience and know-how at the same time if Frank Murphy was to step down.

Disgruntlement

For all the disgruntlement that there is locally to his stewardship, most apparent during the three players' strikes, his administrative achievements stack up with the acquisition of Páirc Uí Rinn, the redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh and a fixture programme that repeatedly gets county finals played on time.

The annual accounts are invariably in rude health however with the bill of Páirc Uí Chaoimh rising the pressure is sure to come on there.

According to official figures for 2016 only Dublin and Mayo spent more on preparing inter-county teams.

His knowledge of rules is credited nationally with clubs and county boards regularly making contact for direction. He is happy to oblige.

But what gets clubs and their people most is a process, or lack of it, like Monday night and the distance that creates.

With the job to be advertised in June, the expectation is that there will be a new era of stewardship with Croke Park involvement and consequently accountability to them on the basis that there will be investment in the position to support it, something that hasn't happened before.

This time, it's hard to see an encore.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport