WHEN the news broke on Thursday morning that Dublin footballers had been photographed breaking lockdown rules by partaking in a training session, many people felt that it must have been an elaborate April Fools’ Day joke.
It would have been quite the prank – and not much of an excuse against fairly strict libel laws here in Ireland – to have six pages of coverage in a national newspaper, given that there are more important things happening in the world. The level of attention came in for plenty of criticism anyway, even though it was accurate reporting by journalist Frank Roche.
Perhaps trying to avoid severe penalties from Croke Park, the Dublin County Board acted quickly and by Thursday afternoon they had announced that senior football manager Dessie Farrell had been suspended for three months.
A July 1 expiration will have the All-Ireland-winning boss back for the business end of the championship, but there is a strong likelihood that he will miss some games, in contrast to Cork and Down managers Ronan McCarthy and Paddy Tally, whose suspensions handed down by the GAA will have run their courses by the time a competitive ball is kicked.
It might seem like an unprecedented scenario for the manager of the Sam Maguire holders to be suspended by his own county board, but it happened here in Cork 31 years ago.
Cork manager Billy Morgan was also involved with his club side Nemo Rangers, and just before the Munster final, they were playing UCC in the county SFC in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. When he ran on to the pitch to give instructions to one of his players, Ger O’Regan, the UCC player marking O’Regan got a bit too close and tempers flared. There was a melee as the teams left the pitch and Morgan was hit by an umbrella, though he maintained that he didn’t become involved.
At a county board meeting in the wake of the game, board chairman Con Murphy said that Morgan was a “disgrace to his clubs, his county and his family”. Cork won the Munster final – a resounding 2-23 to 1-11 win over Kerry – but shortly after that, Morgan was suspended for two months by the board.
Morgan passed the job of coaching the Cork team on an interim basis to his Nemo clubmate Frank Cogan, though as he says in his book : “I never missed a training session, even though I wasn’t allowed take part. I stood up on the terrace and kicked back and high balls that landed near me. I kept in touch with players over the phone.”
In August, with the All-Ireland semi-final against Roscommon looming, Morgan arranged a full-scale A-versus-B game in Skibbereen – he was holidaying in Goleen and would make the short journey to attend.
He wrote: “I had a chat with the selectors just before the game in Skibbereen and then I went up to the back on the side of the pitch to watch the game with my friends Jimmy Keaveney and Peter Rooney, who had come down to West Cork for the week with their families.”
“That’s a joke,” he said. “It couldn’t happen anywhere else only in Cork.”
Morgan thought a bit more about it. The following week, Cork were training in Dunmanway on the Tuesday night – so as not to have the West Cork contingent always travelling to the city – and he decided to take the session.
One of the selectors, Bob Honohan, missed that session as he was at a county board meeting but, two nights later, when Morgan intended on taking a team meeting at Jurys Hotel, Honohan showed up and expressed misgivings. While Seán Murphy convened a discussion of the other selectors outside the team room, Morgan proceeded with the team meeting, but the following morning he took a phone call from county board secretary Frank Murphy.
“If the county board receive a complaint, there will probably be a further suspension,” he was told.
“In the meantime, you must stay away from the team on Sunday.”
Morgan stayed in the Burlington Hotel on the Saturday night before the semi-final, albeit in a different part to where the team were. On the Sunday, he had a walkie-talkie with him in the stand, but it didn’t work.
“Dave Loughman and Seán Murphy came down to the back of the Hogan Stand to get my views at half-time,” he said.
“I couldn’t go near the players. I felt like a leper, especially considering how much I had put into Cork football.
“The rules were implemented, but other counties took a different view and I felt hard done by. I had put my life into Cork. No one could say they weren’t implementing the rules, but there’s the human side of it.”
Cork won, though, and the players stood by him throughout. They got their reward in September with victory over Meath to complete the double.