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New captain controversy erupts in Cork hurling

JOE DEANE'S promotion to the position of captain of the Cork hurling team for Sunday's All-Ireland quarter-final against Waterford will be short-lived if the team extends their All-Ireland campaign and either of the Erin's Own players on the panel force their way back onto the side.

And that shows the inherent weakness of an appointment system that continues to produce crazy anomalies in most counties who retain the policy of automatically handing the captaincy to a representative from the county champions.

Kieran Murphy was Erin's Own choice as Cork captain this season, but he lost his place for Sunday after an indifferent performance against Tipperary in the qualifier tie.

Normally, the captaincy would pass to a colleague from the county champions, but two other Erin's Own players - Cian O'Connor and Shane Murphy - were also dropped as part of Gerald McCarthy's shake-up.

That leaves Erin's Own without a representative, allowing Deane, as the longest serving player on the panel, to assume the mantle of captaincy.

Deane becomes the second high-profile player to take over the captaincy in mid-season as Damien Fitzhenry was promoted in Wexford, replacing Nigel Higgins who was dropped from the panel after the Leinster final.

Deane, who made his championship debut in 1996, will be a hugely popular choice, but many would feel that the honour should have been bestowed on the 29-year-old Killeagh man long before now.

However, it wasn't possible because of the restrictions involved in the system of appointing captains. Ironically, Cork have abandoned the county champions' rule for the selection of minor and U-21 captains, but continue to retain it at senior level.

Support

There's a considerable volume of support for change at all levels in the county, but it has yet to get the necessary backing among the County Board delegates.

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The latest development, which has seen Cork forced to switch captains in mid-season, may bring about a re-think as it's the second successive year the issue has arisen.

Newtownshandrum's Pat Mulcahy was captain last year, but his form in the latter part of the championship was not what would be expected of an inspiring leader, especially in the All-Ireland final against Kilkenny when he was replaced by Wayne Sherlock.

Wexford, Kilkenny and Tipperary are other high-profile hurling counties where the captaincy issue has caused friction over the years, while Kerry and Galway footballers have, over the years, been forced to switch captains in mid-season too.

Curiously, Galway football still operates the county champion rule but the hurling management are allowed to appoint their own captain, arising from an initiative taken by Cyril Farrell when he was boss in the 1980s.

The Galway footballers had to switch captain en route to the 2001 All-Ireland title when Kieran Comer of Corofin lost his place on the starting line-up during the campaign. At the age of 20 and in his first championship season, he would never have been chosen as captain other than for the county champions' rule.

His club-mate Kieran Fitzgerald retained his place on the team but, at the age of 19, wasn't interested in becoming captain, so Corofin nominated long-serving full-back Gary Fahey, a decision which worked out well as he led Galway to All-Ireland glory.

There was a happy ending too in Kerry last year when Declan O'Sullivan captained the team to an All-Ireland final win over Mayo. However, he had been left out of the starting line-up for the three previous games against Longford, Armagh and Cork, increasing the pressure on him and manager Jack O'Connor in the final.

Absence

Colm Cooper was captain in O'Sullivan's absence, but had to hand it back to the Dromid man for the final.

One of the highest profile rows over the captaincy involved Tipperary in 1988 when Pa O'Neill was dropped by 'Babs' Keating and his fellow selectors for the final against Galway.

O'Neill's club, Cappawhite, were livid and made an official complaint to the Tipperary County Board. Keating became the target for hate mail and abusive phone calls as the controversy swept through the county.

Nicky English replaced O'Neill as captain and he also felt the pressure as he had no wish to take over in such unfortunate circumstances. Keating's situation was made all the worse when Tipperary lost the final to Galway, but the manager always insisted it was the right call. "We left O'Neill off the team because we felt there was someone else who could do a better job. It had nothing to do with the captaincy," said Keating.

An attempt to change the system of appointing the captain in Tipperary was made a few years ago, but the proposal to give the responsibility to the management was defeated at a County Convention.

Tipp have become so nervous of the captaincy issue that the Board issued a press release last February pointing out that John O'Brien (Toomevara) would be captain if he were recalled to the team after recovering from injury and that, in the interim, the second longest Toome player (it turned out to be Benny Dunne) would act as captain. O'Brien hasn't returned to the team and Dunne has retained the captaincy.

Kilkenny also found themselves in a captaincy controversy in 2003 when Charlie Carter was nominated by his club, Young Irelands. However, he was in and out of the team that spring and left the panel in disgust after being left on the bench against Dublin in the Leinster semi-final. Kilkenny went on to win the All-Ireland with Carter's club-mate DJ Carey as captain.

Carter later blamed Brian Cody for the whole affair. "My biggest disappointment was that after years of service to the county, I was treated shabbily. It's something I'll never forgive Brian Cody for," he said.

Tension

Clearly, the whole issue of captaincy can be fraught with tension when the choice relies on club activity from the previous year, rather than the leadership skills of various players. So far, Cork have avoided a major controversy but if they advance in this year's hurling championship, problems could arise.

For now though, they seem to have found the ideal captain in Joe Deane.


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