TOM LYONS chats to former Cork treasurer Pearse Murphy
‘VOLUNTEERISM is at the heart of the GAA,’ said outgoing Cork chairman Ger Lane in his final address to convention on Sunday last.
Then he posed the question, ‘Has Pearse Murphy been our greatest-ever volunteer? I don’t say that lightly, but can you name one other person who has given so much time on a voluntary basis in our lifetime?’
Lane described Murphy’s contribution as ‘massive’ and Murphy himself as an ‘extraordinary volunteer’.
It was but one of the many glowing tributes paid to the outgoing treasurer, stepping down after 21 years in that position.
The Adrigole native was presented with a piece of cut-glass for his services, emphasising again the voluntary nature of his amazing service, and after the delegates had all drifted home we managed to get him on his own.
‘I attended my first county board meeting in October 1975 and I’ve been there since,’ he said.
‘I represented Adrigole from 1976-83 and Beara from 1984-96. I was working in the city from the start but I was secretary of Adrigole from 1977-89, having done one year as chairman in 1982.
‘I was on the old GPC [general purposes committee] of the board in 1981 and 1983, I came back in from 1991-96 and became treasurer in December 1996. I replaced Dan Hoare, a work colleague of mine and a great friend. From 1988-96, I had been secretary of the grounds committee, looking after matches and events, and I worked very closely with Dan. When he stepped down, I was elected automatically as treasurer and have been there since then.’
Did his work with the Revenue Commissioners help in his role as treasurer?
‘There’s a lot of talk about the financial side of the role, and it’s very important, but there’s a lot more to being treasurer of the board than that,’ he said.
‘Managing gates is a huge part, getting stewards, managing events for the board. It’s only in the past six years or so that the treasurer became part of the CCC [competitions control committee]. It’s a huge responsibility. I have found it a good thing as I’d have a fair idea where the best returns for games were coming from, where the best venues were. The location of games can be very important.’
How have the attendances at games changed during the past 21 years?
‘When I first became treasurer, the rural venues would host big crowds,’ Murphy said.
‘I remember a game in Dunmanway in 1998 between Clonakilty, the 1996 champions, and Castlehaven, the 1997 runners-up and the crowd was over 4,000. I’d love to see big games like that in West Cork again, but it won’t happen.
‘The way the championships are structured, back doors and so on, the crowds are only coming to see the closing stages of championships and supporters now are only interested in their own club.
‘If you play a double-bill now in Páirc Uí Rinn, or Páirc Uí Chaoimh, you have to make sure people can get out after the first game because they won’t stay to watch the second game. This year, out of the gate receipts of almost €1.2m, more than €850,000 came from the concluding stages of the championships in our two main grounds. When I began as treasurer, the gate receipts would have been about IR£450,000, but we have a lot more games and championships now than back in 1996.’
Hand-in-hand with being treasurer is the job of distributing tickets for big matches, the bane of every club secretary’s life.
‘It’s a system that has been built up since the time of Con Murphy and Frank Murphy,’ Murphy said.
‘I would have a great handle on who was to get tickets and we looked after everybody as best we could. When you have to refuse requests, you feel badly about it. That’s genuine. You would hate offending people, especially very genuine club workers. Forty years ago, when I started in Adrigole you would give a person a ticket and they would be delighted. Now people are looking for three or four because it has become a family affair.
‘Nothing wrong with that, but when it comes to tickets, it just isn’t possible, even if the capacity of Croke Park has risen from 59,000 back in 1999, when Cork were in both finals, to 82,000 today. But we always did our best to satisfy everybody.’
When asked what the biggest problem facing Cork GAA today was, Murphy’s answer had nothing to do with money.
‘When relegation was brought in for the championships, I was all for it but I’m not sure now,’ he says.
‘It puts big pressure on clubs. You had a situation where clubs like St Finbarr’s, Blackrock, Glen Rovers lost their second teams and what happened to those players? We need to maximise our playing numbers in the big urban areas, not reduce them.
‘Some clubs, like Nemo, are excellent at it, others, with much bigger numbers, not so good. Many city clubs are playing top-grade at underage level, yet those players are expected to play junior at adult level, They’re not interested in junior and drop away. We have to get the maximum number playing in the big clubs.’
Can he see the position of treasurer becoming a full-time role?
‘There were fierce demands on my time and it got much worse during the past few years with the development of Páirc Uí Chaoimh,’ he said.
‘We have engaged the services of a full-time accountant for the stadium, half of whose time must go to doing the board’s books. The treasurer will remain an honorary position but it’s the back-up he receives that makes the difference. I always got amazing support from the clubs and from the officers around me, especially Frank Murphy. It will take three people to replace that man eventually.’
Now that he has time on his hands again, what are his plans?
‘I’m far from retired yet,’ he laughed.
‘I’m on the stadium committee for another 18 months and I’m also treasurer of the Munster Council, there’s another two years in that if the counties want me.
‘What I’m really looking forward to is watching matches. As treasurer I saw very few games, just snatches of them. I missed watching games.
‘I can give more time to my family now and to my club, Adrigole, where it all began. And I’ll be available to help the board here and the new treasurer if they want me. Since I joined the board, I’ve been involved in the development of Páirc Uí Rinn and the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh as well as in winning numerous All-Ireland titles in all grades, football and hurling. We had our bad times, too, but I enjoyed it all and will miss it.
‘But I certainly won’t be idle from here out. Since I joined the board, I’ve served under 14 different chairmen, nine of whom have passed away. As treasurer I served under seven, three of whom are gone. The lesson is to live life as best you can while you can.’
Once a busy man, always a busy man. Pearse Murphy may no longer be treasurer of the Cork County Board but, somehow, we expect to be seeing a lot more of him in GAA circles in Cork in the coming years.