User Menu

Murphy’s law as Cork secretary soldiers on for yet another year

Rebel County continues to count down key official’s long goodbye after 45 years in role

Frank Murphy: Cork’s most dominant personality needs to recognise the county’s need for an overhaul is a long-term challenge. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

It’s probably easy to characterise Frank Murphy’s one-year extension as county secretary as a great, Houdini act of survival but in truth there hasn’t been a major campaign to force his retirement after 45 years in office.

The perception may owe something to a published misapprehension in September (helped along by an announcement at county committee that a proposal was to be circulated about replacing the secretary) that he was about to call it a day whereas by then the wheels were in motion for the additional year’s appointment announced on Monday.

Furthermore, there appears to have been little resistance to the reappointment despite some dissent in advance of the meeting – John O’Flynn of the Freemount club having stated that he would oppose extending Murphy’s contract – with reportedly only a handful of speakers voicing their unhappiness at the move as against several welcoming it.

There are different assessments of the mood amongst the clubs in Cork but across the spectrum of opinion there is an assumption that change is on its way – albeit not at the rate that many might wish.

The position is due to be advertised next June, presumably with any new appointment taking effect from the beginning of 2019. Use of the word ‘presumably’ is intended to take into account the possibility that there may be no new appointment next year either although surely the clubs wouldn’t acquiesce to that.

This year has had its positive distractions. Páirc Uí Chaoimh reopened to general acclaim even allowing for a cost overrun, variously estimated between €10 million and €20m. In July the All-Ireland hurling quarter-finals were played there in a successful opening of the venue.

The senior hurlers won the Munster title in the same month and the mood around the county was upbeat. Little wonder that the future of Frank Murphy, who had been given a previous extension specifically to allow him to oversee the construction project, didn’t rate high on the list of priorities.

By the official opening of the ground, to coincide with Sunday’s county finals, things weren’t quite as rosy in the garden.

On the playing field, Cork had lost a disappointing All-Ireland hurling semi-final against Waterford and in the weeks that followed manager Kieran Kingston stepped down.

At Monday’s meeting media were asked to leave when the matter of the reappointment arose. Despite the assurances given to O’Flynn that details of the process for filling the county secretary’s position would be circulated beforehand, that hadn’t happened and the executive simply recommended Murphy stay for a further year.

Two reasons were advanced for the desirability of retaining the county secretary: one, the need to close out the stadium project, which hasn’t been finalised yet, and two, the retirement of long-serving treasurer Pearse Murphy meant that there was already going to be a major loss of experience at executive level.

Ironically, Pearse Murphy’s departure is also seen as a straw in the wind that his namesake may be preparing to leave, as the two have been close allies over the past 20 years.

Sleeping giant

Cork is a sleeping giant within the GAA. Its footballers have been conspicuously underperforming and a new manager Ronan McCarthy, has been appointed. John Meyler, a member of Kingston’s management, was confirmed on Monday as the new hurling manager.

The issue of who runs its affairs has wider significance than simply Cork itself. The county, like Dublin, doesn’t accept the €30,000 on offer from Croke Park to part-fund the salary of county secretaries and the GAA centrally have had no oversight of Cork’s administrative affairs.

That will change. The GAA’s rule book now provides a specific role for Croke Park in such appointments, Rule 3.19 (f) – [Powers of County Committees]:

“To appoint a full-time county secretary or other full-time administrator, subject to permission from the Central Council and a process and conditions determined by the Management Committee on behalf of the Central Council.”

When it becomes time to appoint a successor, the GAA at head office level will consequently have a major input.

It’s clear from all that has happened that, despite being 74 this year, Frank Murphy isn’t keen to go and yet the successful completion of Páirc Uí Chaoimh would have been an obvious landmark.

He continues to dominate Cork GAA through the force of his personality and keen understanding of process but few believe that the county is not in need of a shake-up.

Having put 45 years into GAA administration he doesn’t have anything left to prove either within his county or in the broader national context where his outstanding forensic talents have long been deployed in the arduous and at times apparently unending process of tidying up the association’s rules.

But the challenge ahead is long-term, to revitalise one of the GAA’s powerhouses. It’s not uncommon for long-serving and successful team managers to experience the same sense of reluctance in letting go of the reins, a belief that they can continue to make things happen.

There’s no easy way of spelling out the truth in these situations and it will be up to the clubs in Cork to make it clear to Frank Murphy in the months ahead that it is indeed time to move on and not to complicate the conclusion of a formidable career.

smoran@irishtimes.com