Monday 11 December 2017

Cork descend into civil war

THE Cork senior hurling and football teams look certain to be expelled from the Allianz Leagues on Tuesday night after both the players and board refused to concede any ground in the controversial impasse.

All week, the board have maintained their stance of supporting football manager Teddy Holland, while the players last night poured cold water on any prospect of backing down from their stance of wanting Holland to step aside.

The Sunday Independent now understands that some players have written off any prospect of playing in the league or championship this season.

Despite widespread speculation yesterday that the impasse was close to a resolution with suggestions that the footballers would agree to play under Holland for one year, it's now thought the Rebels will miss the hurling and football leagues for the first time in their history.

Negotiator Kieran Mulvey's decision not to travel to Cork this weekend, after he could not identify any progress in the deadlock, effectively sounded the death knell for any hopes of a resolution. After the mediator decided not to come down to Cork, the board placed the blame for the breakdown squarely at the players' door, saying the "lack of movement" from the squads was responsible for the Labour Relations Committee chief's withdrawal. The players hit back by accusing the board of bringing confidential discussions into the public arena and insisted that Mulvey had blamed a lack of movement on both sides as his reason for not re-entering talks.

The GAA's Central Control Competitions Committee has informed both parties that unless an agreement is reached on Tuesday, then the leagues will proceed without the county, a scenario that now looks a certainty.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent last night, one player summarised how deep the crisis has plunged. "While there was a certain amount of progress made during last week's talk, I have to be honest and say that the situation is now worse than it was last week. There has been absolutely no communication with the county board since the weekend."

The players also moved quickly to quash the theory that both teams might resume action -- provided Holland only got one term in charge. "There's no truth in that at all," said the player. "Our demands are the same as they were back in November. We want to get back playing for our county as quickly as possible but let me be clear -- there is no suggestion that the players will go back if Teddy only received one year in charge. That will not happen."

Hopes of a resolution had been raised towards the end of last week when it became apparent that the highly respected Mulvey was back in the frame. News that a meeting of players had been called for tonight also sweetened the air but such optimism was very fanciful.

"We had hoped to meet again with Kieran this week but that didn't happen and, as for the players' meeting, well we have a lot to bring people up to speed on," the player added.

So while tonight's gathering was seen as significant by many, it now appears to be merely a routine briefing. One item up for discussion, though, is the manner in which details of last weekend's intense negotiations were leaked to RTE and the Irish Examiner last Monday. It's understood the leaking of such sensitive information enraged the players and only made them more resolute in their stance.

"Put it like this," the player continued, "only three parties had access to those negotiation and correspondence documents which were supposed to be confidential -- the players, the county board and Kieran Mulvey. The players were hardly going to release those documents because it could be seen as shooting ourselves in the foot as the board had made some concessions, and we doubt very much if Kieran had anything to do with it either. We are absolutely spitting fire about how those documents entered the public domain. Even quieter guys in the squads are really furious over that."

And so the war rages on with no end in sight. Without doubt the past seven days have been the most acidic period of this dispute. Throughout last weekend's intense negotiations, neither side even shared the same room, although Frank Murphy and Donal óg Cusack did meet face to face at one stage, accompanied by Mulvey. At that time both sides agreed that 90 per cent of the issues at stake were satisfactorily dealt with, but ultimately the board wouldn't revisit their decision to appoint Holland and stated the players' demand for them to do so was "undeliverable". The board argued that removing the manager might trigger legal issues relating to the defamation of Holland, whose appointment was made in accordance with procedure. When told of this, the players insisted they would not back down.

Last Tuesday night's meeting only galvanised the board. If the players got their message across through the media last week, it was the administration's turn to capture the banner headlines.

The press waited outside the meeting for any scrap of progress but all they got was an obstinate response from the board: there had been unanimous approval for Teddy Holland and for county board secretary Frank Murphy. Na Piarsaigh, Seán óg ó hAilpín's club, penned a letter to the board disassociating themselves from the wing-back's comments about Murphy in the Irish Times last weekend -- comments which on RTE last night he said he stood over. Murphy was said to be taken aback at the tone of the newspaper interview and his board delegates rallied around him.

Afterwards, the board's concessions were highlighted in sections of the media; they included an independently chaired work group to deal with issues on a quarterly basis, as well as an additional football selector who would be agreeable to the players. They also pledged to revisit the management/selector issue at the conclusion of both hurling and football management terms. It was agreed that they would write to every club and highlight player support for a return to the old system where a manger could pick his own backroom team.

After that meeting the board's tone was upbeat; ironic considering they were just about to confirm their second postponement of the season -- remember the hurlers had already pulled out of their clash

with LIT in the Waterford Crystal League. And of course Murphy and Holland received unanimous backing from delegates.

By the end of play last Tuesday night, though, the reality was that neither side was any closer to a breakthrough and another SOS was sent to Mulvey who was abroad trying to settle another major industrial dispute between two countries. "Only minor stuff compared to what's going on in Cork," one delegate remarked.

It had been a damning indictment of Cork GAA that the country's leading dispute trouble-shooter was required to resolve a sporting matter but GAA president Nickey Brennan was non- apologetic for introducing him.

"The Association was facing a situation where one of our major counties had a problem and they didn't appear to be solving it. Somebody had to be brought in to solve it," Brennan says. "We didn't stick our heads in the sands. What it reflects, I don't know, but somebody was needed to pull the parties together. It didn't matter who that person was. We went for the best facilitator."

With time running out and the CCCC giving them a Tuesday deadline, Cork were also informed by the president that all room for further manoeuvre had diminished. Brennan stated that no more league matches would be rescheduled or postponed to accommodate them. The footballers' game with Meath was postponed from last night but the Royals are unwilling to let it be postponed a second time from next weekend. The hurlers are due to play Kilkenny on February 10 and the Rebels have been told that unless they commit to taking part in these games, then they will be thrown out of both competitions under the 'two strikes and you're out' rule introduced by Central Council just prior to Special Congress. That rule states that any team failing to fulfil two games will be expelled from competition and applies whether the game is rescheduled, as was the case with the Cork-Meath game, or postponed. Tuesday should seal their fate.

This is an uglier affair than most imagine; any crumb of trust that existed has been wiped away. It's all about the blame game now. Relationships are sour, many have broken down and there will never be reconnections.

That's sad for a county like Cork that can boast 111 All-Ireland hurling and football titles and 164 All Stars between the two codes. This row was seen as a stand-off between Donal óg Cusack and Frank Murphy but the reality is that it's a civil war now.

After the hurlers' recent All-Ireland successes we dared to imagine that everyone had moved on from six years ago. But it turns out that the splinters of 2002 were much sharper then we ever suspected.

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