10 February 2008

Not playing Ball

County Cork is in Ireland commonly known as "the rebel county". The popular nickname has historical roots in the long and often bloody struggle of the Irish - and especially the hot-headed and short-tempered people from the south-west - against the British colonial power (until the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922). Shortly afterwards County Cork became also a hotbed of rebel activity during the Irish Civil War, and ever since a bit of the old rebel spirit can be seen, heard and felt in almost everyone and everything from Cork. It is an invisible badge of honour, worn with pride and together with the county colours red and white.

The rebel spirit has also led to much success in the area of Sport, and especially in the traditional
Gaelic Games (Hurling, Gaelic Football and Camogie). With a total of 113 All-Ireland honours on all levels of Hurling and Gaelic Football, Cork is in fact the most successful of all the 32 Irish counties in the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA).
Cork is by far the most successful Hurling county and won their 30th
All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship in 2005. The Rebels also won the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship six times and many other GAA competitions.

It is therefore a shock for most GAA fans to see Cork missing from this year's sporting contests. The reason - well known by now in Ireland and discussed over and over again by numerous pundits - is the
strike of the county's footballers and hurlers, which is two months old today.

The dispute between the players and their County Board (which organises Gaelic Games in the county as well as the county's teams for regional and nation-wide competitions) began with the resignation of Cork football manager Billy Morgan on November 8th over the prospect that he was not allowed to pick his own selectors.
This seemingly minor disagreement became very quickly a major point of contention in Cork and the Gaelic Players Association backed the Cork players in their threat of going on strike over the matter.

The County Board ignored the thunderclouds on the sporting horizon and on November 21st it appointed Teddy Holland as the replacement for Billy Morgan. This led to even more anger among the players, who now gave notice of their strike intentions and indeed stopped playing for Cork on December 10th.

After Christmas the crisis escalated further, when the players refused to participate in the Waterford Chrystal Cup (Jan. 9th) and Teddy Holland declared he would not resign (Jan. 23rd).
On January 30th
more than a hundred club delegates voted unanimously in support of Holland at a meeting of the County Board, but to no avail. The players remained stubborn and on strike.

Last Tuesday even Taoiseach Bertie Ahern got involved and called on both sides to end the dispute and seek a compromise solution. Many hours of talk have by now taken place behind closed doors, but so far to no avail. Many thought that at least by the start of the National Hurling League - which was today - the players would come out and play (because otherwise they could force suspension and relegation). But no, there is neither an end to the strike, nor a solution in sight. Both sides have dug in their heels and the boys from the rebel county are still not playing ball.

Earlier this afternoon around a thousand people attended a march in support of the players through the streets of Cork. The march was also attended by Cork senior footballer Noel O'Leary and senior hurler John Gardiner. And tonight the Cork senior hurlers and footballers are meeting again to discuss the latest developments in their dispute with the Cork County Board.

I am not a sports pundit, and certainly no soothsayer. But it would surprise me if the Cork players would give in soon, after having stood their ground for so long. The County Board - also made up of stubborn men - can form many committees and hold talks as long as they please, but in the end there is no sport without the people playing it. So in the long run the County Board has the much weaker position in the dispute and will eventually have to give in somehow. If the officials can manage to keep their faces (and positions) remains to be seen.

The overall looser is already the spirit of the GAA, together with the good will that goes a long way. And many disappointed fans are losing out, too, of course.
To paraphrase a well-known satirical poem by Bertold Brecht: Perhaps it might be best if the County Board dissolved the sport and looked for another...

The Emerald Islander
(who lived in Cork and has still friends there)


The Wild Goose said...

I really sympathise with those players and with those Irish rebels of Cork. A very interesting entry!

deiseach said...

Cork is called the Rebel County because it offered support to Perkin Warbeck, a pretender to the throne of England during the reign of Henry VII. Any reference to the War of Independence / Civil War is purely coincidental


Well, wild goose, I do share your sentiment. But I also support those able young men who are among the best in the GAA against a bunch of dried-up pea-counters with a 19th century attitude. I am certain that sooner or later the players will get things their way, and subsequently Cork will have a new GAA County Board with - hopefully - better men. Teddy Holland is the unfortunate man in the middle, and regardless of his own qualities, I think he will have to step down as well in order to restore peace on the playing fields of Co. Cork.


Thanks for your comment, deiseach.

You are quite right, one of the many events that earned Cork the honorific "Rebel County" was indeed the support of pretender Perkin Warbeck in his - unsuccessful - bid for the English throne. (Boosted by the backing from Cork, Warbeck sailed on to Waterford, expecting the same support there. But in the royal city on the river Suir there was no sympathy for his cause. The cannons of Reginald's Tower opened fire and sank one of his ships. So he sailed away, and into oblivion.)

Another time the county received officially the rebel mark was in 1603, when Cork refused to accept the authority of King James I.

But of more significance, especially for modern Ireland, is of course the role Co. Cork played during the struggle for freedom in the 19th and 20th century. Cork was notorious for its Fenian bands, and during the War of Independence both city and county became the focus of resistance. During this period the British killed two of Cork’s Mayors: Thomas MacCurtain was shot by the "Black and Tans", and his successor, Terence MacSweeney, died on hunger strike in a London jail. The city itself was set ablaze by British forces. Another Cork man would famously take on the Brits and win, delivering Ireland from oppression. That man was of course Michael Collins. The sad irony is that he was killed himself soon after, not far from his birthplace in Clonakilty, Co. Cork, by rebels in the Civil War.

Alexander "Sunny" Bergen said...

I don't know much about the GAA and Gaelic Games, but I have played Cricket in Cork (at the CCCC ground on the Mardyke). And from what I read about the case, the Cork GAA players have my empathy and moral support.

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