The Christy O'Connor column: The debate on club structures in Cork is highlighting a critical issue nationally

The Christy O'Connor column: The debate on club structures in Cork is highlighting a critical issue nationally
UCC's Eoin Clifford tackles Sarsfields' Luke Hackett. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

WHEN the new championship proposals for the Cork championship were released last week, the temperature of the immediate reaction – hot and cold, good and bad – could be taken from the debate on social media.

Inevitably, the feedback ranged from one extreme to the next, from horror and disgust to innovative and progressive. 

Tomás Ó Sé said that proposals were ‘very good’, and that he could fully see the merits in Option C: ‘Keeps club playing big games during the summer and calendar can be set,’ tweeted Ó Sé.

Nemo's Tomás Ó Sé clearing against St Vincent's. Picture: Des Barry
Nemo's Tomás Ó Sé clearing against St Vincent's. Picture: Des Barry

On the other hand, the former Clare hurler, Brendan Bugler, described the proposal as ‘crazy’. Bugler even put up a thumbs-down symbol on Twitter to reaffirm his point.

The instant debate continued to rage. 

When Colm Parkinson tweeted that Option C ‘looks great’, it triggered a huge thread of responses, most of which were negative. The general gist of that negativity was that a small club having to play without their county players would be soul destroying.

In any heated debate though, the initial reaction is mostly impulsive before people are fully informed. Inter-county players from junior clubs will not face that dilemma because that stipulation won’t apply to clubs outside the top four grades.

The Option C proposal will apply to the first team of 51 and 52 hurling and football teams respectively.

Compare that to Kerry who have eight senior football teams and 16 intermediate teams?  Or Kilkenny who have 12 senior hurling and 12 intermediate clubs?

All of those above figures illustrate the problems the Cork county board have to try and facilitate fixtures in the county. 

So when people outside of Cork talk about Cork, they don’t fully understand the scale of the numbers involved at senior and Intermediate. 

And that’s even before you get to Junior level, where Cork have another 350 teams playing in the divisions.

Information alters any debate. Internal dialogue and discussion also leads to key decisions, which create key turning points in that debate. 

In that context, and with the above numbers, the decision of Sarsfields last Wednesday evening to back Option C was a huge statement.  It also puts the debate in a different light because Sars – who have five county players – have a duty to provide games throughout the year for their five adult teams.

That certainly altered the narrative of the discussion. So what will the other 18 senior clubs – many of whom have no Cork players – decide to do now? 

If Sars have taken that lead – a decision taken for the welfare of the players in their five adult hurling teams - should those other senior clubs not do the same for the long-term welfare of club players throughout the county? Whatever happens, Sars’ decision has certainly put pressure on some of those clubs.

Sarsfields' Jack O'Connor wins the ball from Glen Rovers' Stephen McDonnell. Both are Cork seniors. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Sarsfields' Jack O'Connor wins the ball from Glen Rovers' Stephen McDonnell. Both are Cork seniors. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Option A will still probably pass this evening but the negativity associated with Option C (and not having county players) should not detract from what the proposal is ultimately designed to achieve – give meaningful matches to club players from April to August. 

For a dual club player, that means 10 championship games.

For many though, they still can’t get past the notion of not having county players. What’s the point of a club developing a player and then not having him available for some of their biggest days in the season?

Another strand of this debate is that some county players may rage against the rule. Yet will that really happen? 

Will players who have invested so much in their inter-county career just walk away on that principle? 

If players don’t want to run the risk of missing club games, they can make that choice at the start of the year before they join a Cork panel. That may be putting an unnecessary burden on amateur players but that player still has a choice, something most club players don’t have. 

Inter-county players are guaranteed games – club players are not. Some senior club players had just two senior championship games last year.  

So why should the club player be continually held ransom to the inter-county game? People on the ground worried about the impact Option C will have on county players should be more focused on what the alternative is doing to club players.

Context is everything here, especially in a county of Cork’s size. 

On Friday, the Club Players Association tweeted: ‘Cork have acted in extremis in the absence of decisive direction from HQ. 

'If a weaker county pursued this option, club players from a strong club could simply opt out of a county set up in favour of club action. 

'In that case, county scene could be in jeopardy.’ 

In the context of the numbers already mentioned, there needs to be a greater understanding of the Cork GAA landscape. 

And there is a reason Cork have got to this stage. Because they are unlike any other county.

Whatever happens tonight, the fact that Sarsfields have voted for Option C means that there needs to be more thoughtful debate than just a sweeping rebuff of that proposal. 

And the last few days have shown that there has been that meaningful debate.

Initially, Option C wasn’t going to be entertained but it has gathered a significant groundswell of support over the last week. The debate amongst clubs has been vigorous and enlightening, which is a success even if Option C doesn’t pass.

Whatever happens, the vote should be a lot closer than many expect.

And if Option C isn’t passed tonight, the surge of positivity around this debate will still ensure that there is a willingness to see the bigger picture in Cork in time.

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