KIERAN SHANNON: It’s time Cork's kingmaker also makes way

So, the king’s tenure is dead — though long live JBM. Above all, long lives the kingmaker.

Last time there was a vacancy for the position of Cork senior hurling manager, this column claimed that of even greater significance was the appointment of who’d be Cork’s next leading senior GAA official.

Like everyone else that summer of 2011, we thought Frank Murphy’s tenure was expiring, that he was to be replaced. He’d been there since 1972, reached retirement age and had been a hugely divisive and central figure in the disputes that had plagued the county the previous decade. For all his undoubted service, times had moved on and there was an assumption that in turn he’d move on too.

Soon after, it emerged he was going to stay on to oversee the redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Most other duties would reside with the newly-created position of senior administrator, which would be filled by the very capable Diarmuid O’Donovan in 2013.

Yet here we are, in 2015, and the bould Pronsias has outlasted another Cork hurling manager.

More so, he’ll have a major say, directly or indirectly, in appointing the next one.

Just look at the committee appointed last month to identify a new Cork football manager. It’s been well flagged three former players will be involved in the process; less so that along with county chairman Ger Lane, Murphy is the board’s other representative.

The previous month he was also selected to serve on the appointments committee to recruit a new county minor hurling manager, a new football minor manager, as well as the new junior football manager.

There’s also been a needless Sciath na Scoil controversy which this column will be returning to in the coming weeks.

Right now there is a chance there will be no football played in the primary schools of Cork this autumn because of the disrespectful manner in which the teachers of that organisation feel they have been treated by the Cork County Board.

For the sake of optics, the board might look to designate two other members of the executive to sit on the appointments selection committee. But take it they will be highly cognisant of what may earn the royal nod or disapproval.

It’s called Groupthink. You’ve probably encountered it yourself. Where you thought about speaking up, then opted against it because you didn’t want to look unsupportive of the group, especially its leader.

The term was first coined by the renowned Yale psychologist Irving Janis as a shorthand term for, as he put it, “the mode of thinking that persons engage in when concurrence-seeking becomes so dominant in an in-group that it tends to override any appraisal of alternative course of action”.

The classic case study was the Bay of Pigs invasion. Kennedy’s inner circle had reservations about his strategy but didn’t voice them out of deference to his supposed genius. A primary source of groupthink is people putting unlimited faith in a talented leader and when that leader punishes dissent.

“People may not stop thinking critically but they stop speaking up,” Janis would observe. Others, seeking validation from leaders, fall into line behind them.”

Other processes are at play. Stereotyping: outsiders are viewed as possessing a different and inferior set of morals and characteristics from themselves, and thus are discredited.

What a field day Janis would have had were he familiar with Cork GAA. The complacency and the deference to Murphy’s supposed genius. The peer pressure and self-censorship, the stereotyping of everyone from those uppity hurlers who apparently tried to uproot “the very ethos of our great association” to rogue, “biased” writers like this column.

It’s time Cork's kingmaker also makes way

Here’s an example of how far the concurrence-seeking has permeated. In this newspaper yesterday, Ger Cunningham’s name wasn’t even linked with the managerial vacancy. True, he might be with Dublin, but then Declan Kidney was with Leinster before Munster — an organisation that truly craved success — poached him back home. Cunningham knows this crop of Cork players; he was coach to them in 2013 when Cork played their best and most committed hurling under JBM. From managing UCC he knows the crop coming after them. The jury is out whether he is the right man to manage Dublin but no-one is more suited to leading Cork.

But, of course, his name won’t even be raised by a member of the new appointments committee, just as Cusack as a minor or senior selector, a la Declan O’Sullivan with Kerry, won’t either. He’s one of the out-group. By even raising his name you could incur the scorn of the group and its leader.

JBM was a blessing to hurling, not just Cork hurling, with his return the past four years — not least for his graciousness — while he helped unify and galvanise the Cork public again. But the consensus he got the max out of the players at his disposal is inaccurate. Better prep makes better players. Huge areas for gains in fitness and mental preparation went unexplored, unlike the high-performance setups football’s Big Four all now take for granted.

For sure, as JBM has pointed out, Cork were only a time-keeping error from winning an All-Ireland in the magical outlier year that was 2013. But on Leeside it’s forgotten that in 1999 Pat O’Connor blew up prematurely in that year’s All-Ireland final and there wasn’t a word of complaint from Kilkenny. They knew the best team ultimately won out, just as it did in 2013. A serious, resilient championship team doesn’t whimper out like it did in last year’s semi-final or in Thurles five weeks ago. With a cutting-edge set-up Cork can absolutely be a serious, resilient, consistent championship force.

Last weekend was a very encouraging one for Cork hurling with the multiple successes of its underage development squads. But there’ll come a time that talent won’t be immune from the prevailing culture and groupthink that pervades the corridors of Cork GAA.

It’s time for some good Cork GAA people to stand up. Or for one great but outdated servant to step aside.

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