Seán Óg Ó hAilpín regrets casualties of 'filthy, callous, cold' strike aftermath

Not a day goes by that Seán Óg Ó hAilpín doesn’t reflect on things that were said during the Cork player strikes and the ‘filthy’ aftermath.
Seán Óg Ó hAilpín regrets casualties of 'filthy, callous, cold' strike aftermath

Not a day goes by that Seán Óg Ó hAilpín doesn’t reflect on things that were said during the Cork player strikes and the ‘filthy’ aftermath.

Ó hAilpín, who was captain when Cork last won a senior hurling All-Ireland in 2005, wishes he had ‘kept my mouth shut’ on certain occasions during those disputes.

And he particularly regrets that there were ‘casualties’ of the fierce player v county board battle, such as Bertie Óg Murphy and Gerald McCarthy.

Speaking on The Sunday Game, Ó hAilpín said: “In a nutshell, the first strike in 2002 was about player welfare and rights.

“Unfortunately with these controversies there are casualties. So Bertie Óg Murphy had to step down as manager, along with his selectors. And when I look back with reflection, that’s one thing I do regret, the casualties.”

On that occasion, the players got the concessions they demanded, so the Na Piarsaigh man says it was vital they followed up by winning All-Irelands in 2004 and 2005.

“If we didn’t back it up with the ‘04 and ‘05 wins we’d have been the laughing stock of not just the nation but the whole world.

“At least those actions were justified.”

However, two further disputes between players and county board followed.

“Basically there was another one in 2007, which involved the hurlers and footballers. Life would have been much easier if it had stopped at that.

“But then there was ‘09, that’s probably the one that there’s still aftermath to this day over.

“The biggest casualty out of that was Gerald McCarthy, probably one of, if not the greatest, Cork greats having to step down.

“Twelve years on, there’s not a day goes by when I think back, that things could have been done differently.

“There’s certain actions, that in hindsight… I can’t speak for the other players, but I know myself I would have said some stuff that maybe, with proper reflection, I was best to keep my mouth shut.

“In my view the bottom line was you had one part of the organisation, the playing group, looking to go that way. And you soon realised you’re not the biggest stakeholder or powerbroker in that situation. That it’s the county board who ultimately govern the association in Cork.

“They didn’t want to go that way with us. They had their own views and they were going the other way. And we were two poles apart. And when you have two camps entrenched in their own beliefs it was only going to lead to ringside tickets in Las Vegas.

“The aftermath was filthy, it was callous, it was cold.”

However, Ó hAilpín sees a determination on Leeside to put those bitter wrangles behind them. And sees the appointment of Dónal Óg Cusack as minor manager, with Ó hAilpín himself also on board, as a sign that peacetime has finally arrived.

“Cork people now, whether you were anti or pro, there's a willingness now to try and get Cork back to winning ways

“Because you could talk about strikes and such a person, but the reality is that Cork hasn't won an (hurling) All-Ireland since 2005.

“That was a brave move by the county board to appoint Dónal Óg as the minor manager. Dónal Óg has brought me inside to give him a hand. We would have been seen as the two most militant people around that time.

“The fact that the board have basically brought us in is some sign they want things to move on, and to get Cork back to winning ways.

“We need to produce results and get Cork teams competing with the belief they are going to win the cup.”

In a wide-ranging interview, Ó hAilpín reiterates how the GAA helped him integrate into Irish life, having arrived from Australia as a child.

“I was a lost kid who came to Cork in the ‘80s, didn’t really want to be there. And because of my different looks, and I had an Australian accent, the locals couldn’t even understand me, it was a tough few years.

“So probably the greatest integration into Irish community that I got was joining the local GAA club, Na Piarsaigh. Life just seemed to change and open doors and open windows for me.

“I still reflect now, would there have been any other way I’d have felt included or integrated properly into Ireland, probably not.

“I’m an Irish person with Fijian heritage, I wouldn't have said that at the beginning. I’d have been a Fijian living in Ireland, until I joined the great establishment that is the GAA.”

However, he did admit that becoming one of the most recognisable faces in hurling brought its own burdens.

“I never knew I was lovely-looking until I started wearing a Cork jersey. As soon as you start wearing a Cork jersey people want to talk to you, they want a piece of you.

“I partially blame Mum for that. Because if you line me up with the greats of that Cork team, with no helmets on, the first person they’ll recognise is me, because of my Fijian looks.”

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