What does the future hold for Cork GAA?

Monday night’s meeting of the Cork County Board wasn’t solely concerned with the future of long-serving secretary Frank Murphy, writes Michael Moynihan.

The headlines immediately afterwards centred on the one-year extension given to Murphy, but the fine print conveyed a stronger sense of what the meeting dealt with.

At one point a delegate objected to a championship match being fixed for his club’s field on the basis that it was being resodded; an official at the top table pointed out that the club had played a challenge match on the same pitch 24 hours earlier, which presumably meant it was available for that upcoming championship match.

All good knockabout fun which would be familiar to anyone who has ever attended a county board meeting, or even a sports administrators’ gathering of any kind.

Having been appointed in 1972, Frank Murphy has been the dominant personality in Cork GAA for over four decades.

What wouldn’t be familiar would be Murphy continuing in office, having been appointed in 1972, which makes the Blackrock club man the dominant personality in Cork GAA for over four decades: He will now continue until October 2018.

Hardly surprising, as noted, that this news dominated at the water-cooler yesterday morning, but there were other interesting developments on Monday.

Some close observers have pointed out, for instance, that the announcement that another long-serving office, Pearse Murphy, is to step down as treasurer could have very significant implications for the county board.

The board treasurer has varying duties but ultimately his or her basic responsibility is the bottom line. Last year Cork spent almost €1.5m on inter-county team preparations, and it’s the treasurer who must make sure all those bills are paid.

Perhaps equally important, the treasurer is also responsible for the board’s main income, the revenue generated by over 400 championship games played in the county every year. Those games generate over €1m but if senior county finals and semi-finals are excluded, dozens of those games generate only a few 100 to €1,000 in gate receipts.

Keeping track of those games and the income from them is an onerous task for all sorts of reasons — legend has it a junior B game once generated just €5 in gate receipts — but the significant point is that Murphy has worked on a voluntary basis for the board for years.

Questions were raised by delegates about Frank Murphy’s full-time position on Monday night, but the speakers may have missed a far more pressing issue.

Shouldn’t someone responsible for €1m in turnover and answerable for €1.5m in expenditure be in a full-time position with the board?

If the option of a full-time paid treasurer, or finance officer, were taken up, it would be in keeping with the management template mentioned last year by close observers — a directorate reporting to a chief executive officer.

The structure mooted at that time involved four directors — of finance, of marketing and business, of games and of the stadium itself — with a CEO figure at the helm, much like the successful Dublin County Board model which has John Costello at its head.

In some ways that structure has been followed. One-time chairman Bob Ryan is also the Central Council delegate — and reported to the meeting in that capacity on Monday evening — but is also stadium manager, while Patrick Doyle, ticket sales manager for the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh, is driving the stadium’s commercial agenda.

Senior administrator Diarmuid O’Donovan is responsible for fixtures and intercounty teams, the games management brief.

The departure of Pearse Murphy creates a vacancy as treasurer but, as noted above, this may have to become a full-time role rather than the responsibility of a volunteer.

The treasurer’s departure may also be viewed by Cork GAA kremlinologists as significant in terms of shifting power in Leeside officialdom. The two Murphys, though not related, are long-time allies in the politicking and infighting common to all county boards, and on Monday evening the news about the secretary didn’t preclude more developments likely to affect the top table.

Development officer Richard Murphy told the meeting he would be seeking election as vice-chairman, while later in the night a tweet from coaching officer Kevin O’Donovan confirmed that he, too, would be seeking the position of vice-chairman.

O’Donovan issued a wide-ranging document last year outlining his views on the reform needed in Cork GAA, calling for measures such as the appointment of full-time directors of football, hurling, and physical development as well as a Rebel Óg junior administrator in addition to a regeneration project for Cork City and the establishment of regional centres of excellence in Mallow and Clonakilty.

As a result, the contest between him and Richard Murphy is likely to be viewed as a referendum on change within the county.

Within the board those differences of opinion exist also: Though media were asked to leave before the meeting discussed staffing matters, one participant said that there was opposition voiced to the extension of the secretary’s contract during the in-camera portion of the meeting; another participant pointed to a round of applause shortly afterwards in support of the extension.

Beyond that extension, what? Expect a good deal of interest in the position which Monday night’s meeting was told will be advertised next June. When the CVs roll in presumably the most promising candidates will be called down to the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Who are they likely to face? An interview board with representatives from the Cork County Board, the Munster Council, Croke Park and a HR professional. In another twist, the impending departure of GAA director-general Páraic Duffy may also have an impact on the Cork job.

He might have been expected to sit on the interview panel on Leeside, but will the upcoming vacancy in GAA HQ now attract candidates who might have had an eye on Páirc Uí Chaoimh?

That interview board will likely seek someone with significant but specialised experience of private business and the GAA alongside intimate knowledge of how hurling and football co-exist within Cork (and how sometimes they don’t).

An understanding of club sensitivities will have to be combined with an ability to persuade, or bully, those same clubs when necessary.

A tall order, then. The only guarantee is that whoever gets the job won’t still be doing it 46 years later.

Meanwhile Páirc Uí Chaoimh has been shortlisted in the Overall Project of the Year category in the 2017 Engineers Ireland Excellence Awards.


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