Cork must apologise or face censure for undermining Pádraig Hughes
Statement defending Brian Cuthbert should not have blamed intercounty referee
Brian Cuthbert: resigned following Cork’s qualifier defeat to Kildare in Thurles. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
On reading the statement issued on Monday, you would be entitled to wonder did someone on the Cork executive sit down and say to themselves: ‘How do we make things worse?’
A sobering weekend concluded 10 days ago with both of the county’s senior teams gone from the championship before the end of July, a wipeout swiftly followed by the resignation of football manager Brian Cuthbert and uncertainty surrounding the intentions of hurling counterpart Jimmy Barry-Murphy.
The county has at last been overhauling its development systems – a process under way for a couple of years now – but this can’t reasonably promise an immediate harvest and all in all it’s fair to say that there is much agonising going on down by the once contented banks of the Lee.
The purpose of the statement was to thank Cuthbert for his efforts over the past two years but somewhere along the way it developed into a sort of apologia pro vita sua – an almost polemical defence of the former manager, which appeared to blame referee Pádraig Hughes for the county’s football season falling apart.
We can infer from this that the parallel universe, as well as requisitioning the Munster title, is also bad news for Kildare and for either Dublin or Kerry, as Cork pass serenely into the All-Ireland semi-finals.
It also sidelines Fermanagh despite the feisty performance by Peter McGrath’s team against Dublin – losing as it happens by less than Cork did in last April’s league final.
It’s not unusual for players or managers to ventilate on the subject of referees in the aftermath of matches and there are, correctly, punishments prescribed for doing this.
It is another matter entirely for a county executive in cold blood to issue a statement that in passing pillories an inter-county referee.
However well intentioned – as evidence of how thin the margins had proved for Brian Cuthbert – the argument ended up just being preposterous and rather than set the record straight on the former Cork manager’s tenure, contrived to bury him in undignified controversy.
Much of what is stated is unarguable. Cuthbert has contributed a lot to football in the county and was a driving force in the revitalisation of development systems and he also came within seconds of recording Cork’s first victory in Killarney for 20 years. The cards fell the wrong way.
He had been an unexpected choice two years ago when appointed against the competing claims of John Cleary, an All-Ireland-winning manager at under-21 level and who is currently the favourite to succeed him.
A week previously on The Sunday Game former Cork hurler Donal Óg Cusack launched a strong and at times personalised attack on county officials, especially secretary Frank Murphy, which proved an at times unnecessary distraction from the force of his arguments on Cork’s decline.
The references in the statement to Cuthbert’s work in liaising with sports science professionals to establish best practice for development panels can be read as a rebuke to criticisms like Cusack’s that the GAA administration in the county is hopelessly outdated.
Furthermore, the emphasis on unpaid volunteers may refer specifically to the outgoing football manager but can equally be interpreted as having wider application.
Public reaction is focusing very little on the gratitude being expressed to Brian Cuthbert for his work or the vigorous engagement with his detractors. Instead there has been embarrassment for many in Cork and ridicule from elsewhere.
There have already been indications that the purpose of the statement was not to take a swipe at the match referee but Pádraig Hughes has become collateral damage.
Frank Murphy is one of the most forensically precise minds in the whole of the GAA, never mind Cork and a mainstay of the association’s Rules Advisory Committee.
It’s hard to imagine how he could sign off on something like this without being aware of its likely impact.
A former All-Ireland referee, he was also influential in the GAA’s discontinuing the practice of allowing match officials’ decisions on matters of discipline to be reviewed – in order to preserve the integrity of referees.
Had a club in Cork published something like this on its website, it’s safe to speculate that Frank Murphy wouldn’t be impressed by the defence of clumsy drafting.
Cork GAA has a lot on its plate at the moment: maintaining progress in the development of young talent, appointing a new manager to jump-start the fortunes of its demoralised footballers, trying to revive the hurlers and at present pushing on with the rebuilding of Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
If it is genuinely the case that there was no intention to drag an inter-county referee into this, that point should be publicly made, an apology issued and some dignity restored to the situation.
Failure to do that has to result in a rebuke to the county and a fine under Rule 7.2 (e) for ‘Misconduct considered to have discredited the association’.
In other words, sign an apology or sign a cheque. The choice is their own.