In Cork, convention doesn’t have to mean status quo

As the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh half opened last July for the All-Ireland quarter-finals, many would have seen it as an incredible chance to lay down a marker for the future of the GAA in Cork.

Incoming chairperson of Cork County Board, Tracey Kennedy, at Páirc Uí Caoimh ahead of Sunday's Cork County Board Convention.

In its design, it brought Cork kicking and screaming into a 21st century of endless opportunity.

You could see into the brave new world of tomorrow.

Being there a few times since, it continues to impress as a structure and even the recent news on the overspend was well managed by outgoing chairman, Ger Lane.

However, as the county championships came to their conclusion, there was also the nagging feeling that an opportunity or two had gone a begging.

It hit home as the official opening meandered along during the substantial break between the county senior football and hurling finals.

A very respectable 16,226 people came through the gates on the day and that would be  considered a good day’s work most of the time.

However, for an attractive double-header, in a shiny, spanking new statement of a stadium, was it maximised?

There’s always the feeling that more could be done to attract people along, that the showpiece of the year could be promoted more vigorously.

Of course, it also bodes the question of whether it’s fair to expect a volunteer to take on the mammoth role of promoting the games, in a county like Cork, adequately.

It probably needs to be a full-time position and could incorporate the marketing of the GAA in Cork with maybe an official shop in the city centre or even a presence in the departure lounge of Cork Airport.

These thoughts ebbed and flowed as the mind drifted from the inevitable ennui that accompanied the opening itself.

It was slightly more productive than counting the heads at Mass as you tried to make it through the homily, but it still couldn’t entirely allow you to ignore the fact that what was happening on the pitch was, at best, underwhelming.

Before a word was uttered, it just looked wrong. A line of seated and suited white-haired men, staring and smiling up at the vast expanses of the South Stand, their backs to North Stand, like it didn’t exist, throughout the whole ceremony.

Two bishops oversaw all and, for all the new pomp of the arena, the whole thing could have been lifted straight from the last official opening in 1976. The razzmatazz came in the form of set dancing.

Nothing wrong with that, of course, once it’s performed on a stage, as opposed to soft, October grass.

No women, no players, no young people, nobody for the crowd to connect with, no effort to entice the football snobs to stay on for the hurling final, no sense of joy whatsoever.

This isn’t to undermine the monumental work that those involved in the development undertook.

The hours, days and weeks of their personal lives that they forsook for the cause is incredible and should be praised, acknowledged and remembered. It’s just to say that it looked wrong, that it felt wrong, that an opportunity was lost.

Those of a more pessimistic disposition attached to this a sign that, even though things looked to be changing, nothing had actually changed at all and, then, everything went all Johnny Logan in relation to the position of county secretary.

For, when it comes to Frank Murphy, what’s another year?

Ah yes, Frank, the man that can be blamed for everything. The puppet master, Descartes’ evil genius, the great dictator, Keyser Soze, the man who accepted an offer that couldn’t be refused and whose inevitable retirement will act as a panacea for all the ills of Cork GAA.

Perhaps, then, people will be able to remember that he was the brain behind the purchase of Flower Lodge, brought Prince, U2 and Féile to Cork and was the county secretary who never failed to defend Cork players when they were in the dock, no matter who they were.

His cunning was oft used to make inter-county suspensions disappear, even if, on occasion, the same cunning may have produced a perceived injustice against your club.

No matter what, it can’t be denied that he has done the county some service.

However, who will be blamed when he departs next December? Perhaps people in Cork are just too used to using Frank and everything else as an excuse.

We are all human, after all, and it’s nothing if not human to try and, well, humanise, our frustrations.

It is comforting to have an omnipotent force upon whom you can vent your angst, because it means you’re blameless, powerless and downtrodden.

What’s the point of fighting for change if the house always wins?

It’s much easier to complain about board delegates and latch onto conspiracy theories than it is to face up to the fact that there are elections every year in Cork, not to mention that the county board, in an act of unparalleled Machiavellian duplicity, hold their county convention at the same time every year.

If change is going to happen in Cork it will be through the processes that have always existed, from within rather than without.

All that needs to happen is for the people to put themselves forward for the roles that are there.

Change is even happening already, even if it isn’t very noticeable, but this year’s convention will see one major change that would have been unthinkable until recently:

Tracey Kennedy will take on the role of chairperson for the next three years. Yes, a woman will now be the figurehead of what has been one of the most conservative county boards in the country.

She has been returned unanimously on the back of old-fashioned hard work, particularly in her time as PRO. In even pursuing this position in such a male-dominated environment she has shown tremendous ambition and deserves great praise.

That just leaves the elections for the roles of vice-chairperson, treasurer, and development officer. The electioneering and canvassing for these positions has ended. Phone calls have been made, favours called in.

Now, it’s time to find out if the clubs have looked at what those seeking election have to offer, at what their visions are for the future.

There are massive hurdles to be tackled in relation to the club game in the county, top of the list being the construction of a schedule of regular, meaningful games for club players at all levels.

Cork is a massive, dual county with incredible potential and unique difficulties.

Votes being cast for somebody just because you know him, or just because they asked just isn’t going to cut it anymore.

The Cork GAA faithful are akin to a group of disgruntled hurling and football-loving Marxists, waiting and dreaming for the inevitable revolution that will never come and the establishment of a paradise where we win every All-Ireland every year.

Revolutions, though, tend to be bloody, ruthless, divisive and repetitive.

We’ve had enough of that here. Change is easier than it looks, as power always rests in the hands of the many.

Even if they are slow to realise it, and even slower to grasp it.


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