ALL-IRELAND winning captain Ben O’Connor last night confirmed that he and the entire Cork hurling panel will not play under Gerald McCarthy next season.
In an exclusive Irish Examiner interview, O’Connor laid the blame squarely with the County Board for the second massive stand-off to have hit the Rebels this year. He described the Board’s process of appointing the senior manager as farcical and a ‘set up’ for the players who had won concessions to be part of the selection process in their strike action earlier this year.
And in a dramatic escalation of the latest dispute, he issued a stark warning to McCarthy and the County Board: “This panel are ready to go the whole distance, we’re ready to pull out, tell them to work away next year.
“If there’s a new management team after that, and if we’re wanted back again, then no bother, but as it stands we’re having nothing to do with the current set-up
“People tell us that we should be honoured to play for Cork – it’s not an honour to play for Cork, it’s an honour to win for Cork, that’s my argument. It’s no good us going up and down to Páirc Uí Chaoimh three or four times a week, if we’re not winning, or at least giving ourselves the best chance of winning. After what we’ve experienced for the last two years, we feel we need change to get back to Croke Park.”
The players have asked the coach to step back, for the good of Cork hurling but why don’t they step back themselves?
Replied O’Connor: “Because we feel that ultimately that wouldn’t be for the good of Cork hurling. We haven’t been in an final for two years, we want to get back there; if we don’t change, how are we going to do that? What’s the point of giving in just for the sake of peace? Isn’t that like playing just for the sake of playing? We’re in this to win, not just to be there.”
O’Connor admitted the players had issues with McCarthy’s training regime which he claimed had ‘definitely gone backwards’.
“During the four years when we were going well, we were working to a specific game-plan, we all knew what we were doing – under Gerald, in the second year especially, we were just running around for a finish, and had no idea what we were doing as a team.
“Training was the same — constant problems were coming up and it was not at all enjoyable. We couldn’t just go up, train hard for a couple of hours, have our meal, go home – there was always some obstacle, some problem.
“We’re just sick of it. The public seem to be turning against us again, it always seems to be our fault, but we’re the ones on the inside, we know what’s going on behind the scenes, and it’s not good. We don’t want to be arguing and fighting, but the training methods have definitely gone backwards, and the proof of that is in the results.
“From four All-Ireland finals in four years, two wins, two narrow defeats, to not even reaching a Munster final in two years – surely to God people can see that something has gone wrong.
“It just wasn’t working out with Gerald, that’s all.”
What now, what would resolve it? “What would resolve it now is if Gerald says he’s going to step aside, for the good of Cork hurling.”
But the Cork player’s ire wasn’t solely directed at McCarthy. The squad was furious at the way in which the County Board conducted affairs when the manager’s term had ended.
“We went with binding arbitration in the last dispute, even though there was a good chance the decision could have gone against us,” said O’Connor, a ten-year veteran with the team. “It didn’t, we won that argument, and there was a clause inserted that in future there would be two players on any committee that was involved in the process of selecting the senior manager.
“Our understanding of that was that there would be a process. Well, there was no process. Our two guys went to the first meeting of the selection committee, were met by five county board members and our guys knew within ten minutes that it was a total set-up and they were going to have no say.
“They (the five other committee members) proposed that Gerald McCarthy be re-appointed for another two years and no-one else was mentioned. They had already agreed it among themselves, it was a done deal. Our guys asked: ‘where are the other candidates?’ Surely to God we’re going to be interviewing a few people, given the performance over the last two years?’
“They were told, ‘no, we’re having the vote here now’.
“So where was the process? What say did we have in this?”
But what say should the players have in this, that’s the question being asked by many Cork fans.
“We weren’t trying to say who should manage Cork. This wasn’t even about Gerald. What we wanted was a process, what we had agreed on in that binding arbitration was a process – but this wasn’t a process. If you’re going for a job in any walk of life, and especially if you’ve already failed, wouldn’t there be an interview process at least? And there are other candidates out there. We felt that at the very least they should have been interviewed, and the best man chosen. Gerald’s record though didn’t seem to come into the reckoning at all.
“In the last two years we’ve beaten Clare, Offaly, Dublin, but if you’re to win All-Irelands, you have to beat Kilkenny, Waterford, Tipperary – we’ve lost to all three under Gerald. If he’s there for another two years, what’s going to change? It didn’t matter, it was just a case of ‘this is what’s happening, and that’s it’.’”
What if the man chosen under such a process had been Gerald McCarthy?
“We’d have had no problem, we could have had no problem, because we’d have gone through a process. If four or five had been interviewed and Gerald was then chosen, well so be it, we’d have no argument with that. But it was the way it was done that upset us. The county board say we broke the rules of the binding arbitration. We didn’t, they were well and truly broken by the county board before any of this.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved