Sunday 20 May 2018

Murphy's law outlived even his own Páirc

Frank Murphy. Pic: Sportsfile
Frank Murphy. Pic: Sportsfile

How best do you sum up the sheer longevity of the retiring godfather of Cork GAA, Frank Murphy?

Here's how: he is the county board secretary who outlived a stadium.

Cork's perennial full-time supremo has been in the hotseat since 1972. That means he oversaw the construction of the 'new' Páirc Uí Chaoimh, which opened in 1976. At the time, in an era of cobbled-together and often decrepit county grounds, it was the height of modernity.

For non-Corkonians, at any rate, that feeling of fuzzy affection wouldn't last. Those of you who survived the 'tunnel of love' underneath the main stand, on a sweaty summer's day, invariably signed up for Claustrophobics Anonymous the next morning.


But Frank was still in the secretary's chair for the second coming of 'the Páirc' as a resplendent new edifice last July. And yes, it truly is spectacular - like a scaled-down Croke Park in design but more pristine and every bit as impressive.

But yes, it's still the same riverside location with the same traffic bottlenecks.

Murphy was given a contract extension in 2012 to facilitate his involvement in the construction of the new arena; that contract expires before year's end.

At the first county board meeting in the new Páirc, on Tuesday night, chairman Ger Lane said clubs would receive a proposal regarding a replacement five days ahead of their October 17 meeting. Ergo, the big chief is in the home straight.

Then again, Doubting Thomases with long memories might recall a previous announcement from Murphy - in September 2009 - of his intention to step down, likely within 12 months, but he could stay a year beyond that. That was eight years ago!

Now, though, it seems safe to assume that the septuagenarian secretary is poised to exit - his bricks-and-mortar legacy gloriously intact and, you might add, he leaves Cork hurling in a healthy place.

Except that Kieran Kingston, the manager who masterminded a Munster title against the odds last summer, has just resigned.

You see, it's never that black-and-white on Leeside. And through the decades, Murphy has been many different things to countless different people.

An All-Ireland senior hurling referee - twice. A Cork selector on multiple teams. Oracle of the Official Guide, the ultimate expert in GAA rules and regulations. Cardinal of Congress, whose oratory could copperfasten - or kill - a motion in one sentence.

More recently, we suspect, that power to sway national GAA politics has waned. Through it all, especially his most turbulent decade in the noughties when three Cork player strikes erupted on his watch, he cut a divisive figure.


But even some of his 'enemies' couldn't hide their admiration at times.

Donal Óg Cusack, the most prominent GPA figure in those Cork strikes, was one of three Rebels suspended after 'Semplegate', that pre-match schemozzle against Clare in 2007.

As Cusack relates in his autobiography, and despite losing their ultimate appeal before the DRA, he was captivated by "this mythical character of the GAA's back rooms, and he was now destroying this other fella, a bright young lawyer".

As a Cork player, he noted, this is when you look up and see a dark spot in the sky and ask: "Is it a bird? It is a plane? No, it's Superman. No wait, wait. It's Frank Murphy with the rule book."

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