The Cork hurling panel of 2008 has reiterated it will not play under Gerald McCarthy again under any circumstances and claims that speculation to the contrary following Friday night's county board meeting was fuelled by the executive trying to hamper the players' meeting with club chairmen tonight.
There had been some optimism yesterday that a resolution was close at hand after a club delegate and a statement by Gerald McCarthy read by secretary Frank Murphy claimed the players had expressed a willingness to play for the manager under certain conditions. Blarney's Alan White revealed that "what he had been told" by players was they would be favourable to playing for McCarthy if three of his selectors were to be replaced by others agreeable to both McCarthy and the players. The meeting broke up with the consensus that if some selectors "had to be sacrificed" to end the stalemate then it should be explored.
However, yesterday the players said that while their three representatives in the talks with Paraic Duffy and Christy Cooney in Cork Airport may have briefly floated the idea of playing for McCarthy among themselves, they dismissed it soon after. The board, they say, latched onto the very mention of the prospect to scupper the attendance and impact of the players' meeting with club chairmen tonight.
"It [the idea of playing for McCarthy] was briefly mentioned by the three players but it never even went back to the other seven players that were also in the airport for the reps to consult with," says one player. "For the board to put it out that the strike is coming to an end and the players are ready to play for Gerald is totally untrue.
"You'd have to think they spun that to sabotage the meeting with the [club] chairmen. There's been a huge groundswell of support for us in the past week with junior clubs feeling they've been isolated and the board are now afraid the power will be wrestled off them by the clubs. The events of the past day or two and the spin that's been put on them means it is all the more important that we meet the club chairmen."
And so, as the players prepare to meet the club chairmen tonight, the power struggle continues. For that's what it is. Whether you think the dispute is about player power or a power play by the board, everyone can agree it's a power struggle.
In some of the most seminal works on the study of power, political scientists have identified that perhaps the most subtle but telling feature of power is being able to control the agenda of the day. Group A decides what's on the agenda and just as importantly, what's not on it. Furthermore, they're able to define the parameters of the debate. Some areas are simply off-limits because of the preconceived values and practices Group A has been able to establish in the past.
To date in this dispute the Cork executive has wielded the power of 'agenda control' with impressive vigour. Gerald McCarthy is the only candidate in the appointments 'process'. On the night his reappointment is validated, they deny the media access and choose not to inform board delegates how vehemently the players have opposed the appointment.
At county convention they propose negotiations while emphasising McCarthy's future is non-negotiable. A day after the players hold a press conference, the top table blocks a motion from Cloyne calling that any vote on the management impasse be notified in advance so the clubs can duly debate it and mandate their delegates.
The county footballers issue strike notice and 10,000 people take to the streets in support of the 2008 panel and within days the executive gives a few hours' notice that Gerald McCarthy will be speaking at that night's board meeting. After Gerald's speech, a snap vote is taken, and in the ultimate display of agenda control, the chairman rules that there will be no further vote on the matter even though the players are going to be meeting the club chairmen.
This past week the board's power has been evident again. An executive whose secretary during the last strike could go on holidays for a few weeks feels the urgency on Friday to call another board meeting at a few hours' notice. In the Cork Airport discussions Christy Cooney and Paraic Duffy work on the premise that Gerald McCarthy's position for 2009 is not on the agenda. Neither is Frank Murphy's, though he's now presided over three disputes in six years. That would be to go beyond the parameters of this debate yet it's perfectly reasonable to ask the 2008 players to play under McCarthy again when of the 15 players who started against Kilkenny last August, Brian Murphy, Ronan Curran and Patrick Horgan are the only three who haven't publicly disrespected his coaching. As damning as some of their recommendations were of the current regime in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Duffy and Cooney ultimately chose to ignore the law and practicalities of the dressing room in favour of the law of the board room.
In recent days junior clubs have expressed their disgruntlement with how their delegates voted without or against a mandate. Some are calling for a special convention. Along with Rule 42, this is the biggest issue Cork clubs will probably have encountered for decades. Surely they're entitled to vote about one of them. By secret ballot if they want. Maybe it's time they had that much agenda control, that they finally had some power.