TOM LYONS looks at how Frank Murphy’s reign as county board secretary will be remembered?
ARE you for or against Frank Murphy?
It seems a childish, ridiculous question but everybody, GAA or otherwise, seems to have a definite view about the retiring secretary of the county board and what he did for the GAA.
When it comes to Murphy and his contribution, there doesn’t seem to be any neutral ground. You’re either for or against. No GAA person in Cork, and very few nationally, has ever evoked the type of feeling that Murphy has evoked in his 46 years in charge of Cork GAA.
When Murphy was appointed full-time secretary in Cork, it was a revolutionary move, as previous secretaries had all been volunteers. Fortunately for Cork, most were able administrators and left their positive mark on the association in the county. But Murphy was stepping into the unknown, a paid official in the charge of volunteer executive; how would that work out?
Of course Murphy was never officially the boss, that title rested with the chairperson. But after a settling in period it became crystal clear that the power behind the throne was really the secretary. He pulled the strings, he called the tune. Yes, there were outstanding chairpersons who did outstanding work but all GAA people in Cork knew where the real power lay.
For almost 40 years under Murphy’s rule we attended conventions at the end of each year where the final word on any argument always rested with Murphy. When a contentious issue arose everybody waited for him to say his piece and it inevitably swung the vote in his direction.
Over the years he became more and more powerful. His knowledge of the rules was legendary and very few dared to argue with him on the finer points of GAA law. Very often we in Cork were delighted to have him on our side, as our guide, as he took on the best in the country and emerged victorious. Various GAA presidents used his knowledge to great benefit on various national committees.
But what do they say about absolute power? That it corrupts absolutely. Murphy had absolute power in the GAA in Cork and some GAA people believe that it was bad for the association and bad for democracy. At county board level there was little point in arguing with the secretary, you just couldn’t win in more ways than one. Firstly, he could out-argue you on any point of order and secondly, he had a hardcore of supporters who always backed whatever he said, enough to always win a vote at board level.
Was Murphy corrupted by his absolute power? No, he wasn’t. He used his power always for the good of the GAA in Cork, and nationally. The development of the magnificent new Páirc Uí Chaoimh happened within four years of his appointment and he was instrumental in paying off the crippling debt on it afterwards.
The purchase of Flower Lodge from under the noses of the FAI was a master stroke for Murphy and became the much-used Páirc Uí Rinn. That achievement saw Murphy at his peak, a hero to all GAA people in Cork.
So where did it all begin to go wrong? The longer Murphy ruled the more he seemed to become set in his ways and the more conservative his decisions became. The GAA in Cork appeared to be stagnating and the democracy of the board was often questioned.
As other counties began to pay the managers of their teams, Murphy stood steadfast behind his GAA rules, allowing only expenses as outlined in the rules. This refusal to bend in any way that might have contravened rules was to lead to his downfall. Can we seriously blame him now for sticking rigidly to the rules?
The Cork players rebelled against the board, an unthinkable happening in the GAA. They blamed Murphy’s tight-fisted control for many of the faults they outlined. It was Murphy and the board against the players, eventually against most of the county as the ordinary supporters in the main stood behind the players.
Thus really began the ‘for or against Murphy’ question in Cork GAA. The board lost. Three times they lost in three different strikes, and had to give in to the demands of the players. It was truly the beginning of the end for Murphy as the power in Cork GAA.
The clubs became more daring in opposing the board, no longer was Murphy’s word gospel. It was now being questioned and over the past few years he was a fairly silent observer at convention, rather than a major contributor. Until it came to the finer points of the rules, at that he was still the master. An administrator was brought in to do the hard work of fixtures, etc., something that had been Murphy’s complete domain.
His time in recent years was dedicated to the building of the new magnificent Páirc Uí Chaoimh and it seemed that would indeed be his marvellous legacy to Cork GAA as he stepped down. Many expect him to continue in some role as regards the new stadium and that is indeed to be welcomed.
No man, or woman, has left such an indelible mark on the GAA in Cork. The association we now operate in Cork is mostly of his making.
It is a shame to think that he may eventually be judged on the damage done by the strikes, and damage was done on all s ides, rather than his wonderful achievements in growing the association in the county.
Yes, the question will be asked, are you for or against Murphy?
I have no hesitation in admitting my admiration for what Murphy achieved not only in Cork but for the GAA in general. Yes, we had our differences and our arguments down the years but we always enjoyed his company and his views. We did believe he held too much power at board level for the overall good of the GAA in Cork but we bowed to his superior knowledge and often called on him to solve problems for us and he never refused any request.
Of course he had his faults, who doesn’t, but he took a lot of unwarranted criticism for standing over his convictions and for defending the rules of the association. His main fault was that at times he seemed unbendable in public debate. He was painted, totally unfairly by some, as a demon of sorts who wielded a whip to keep the GAA in Cork under his control. Ridiculous.
If the board appeared to touch on dictatorship at times it was because the people around him didn’t have the gumption to question his decisions. That was their fault, not his.
Frank Murphy leaves behind a great legacy to Cork GAA. For 46 years Cork GAA was privileged that he was one of our own, a Cork man who loves his county dearly, a man who dedicated his life to the red and white. He deserves every tribute paid to him and, hopefully, his name will be properly commemorated in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. He deserves a rest now, to do whatever he wants to do in his retirement.
He has been a true servant of Cork GAA, the best we ever had, and we rejoice that we had him.