09 February 2009

Rebels march in support of Hurlers

This account of the hurler's march was put together for the UCC express:

12,000 fans braved the bitterly cold weather as they took to the streets of Cork in support of the 2008 Cork hurling panel. The turnout exceeded all expectations, with the players and organisers keen to show their gratitude to the public. Present on stage were several members of the football and hurling panels, the latter having publicly announced on Thursday their intention to strike in solidarity at the end of the league campaign if matters are not resolved satisfactorily.

Rumours had abounded as to the identity of the speakers beforehand. Initially it had been expected that the players would stay away, so as to avoid giving the impression of instigating the march. As it transpired, many key members turned up to thank the public, and they were joined by an old friend; former Cork hurling and football great, Brian Corcoran.

The march began in Emmet Place at 3pm, where a sizeable crowd had already assembled an hour previous. The march proceeded onto Academy Street, left to the top of Patrick Street, and back down the same street before terminating in Grand Parade. Such was the size of the turnout that at 3:45pm- with a large crowd already thronging the area in front of the city library- that there were still people leaving Emmet Place at the back of the march.

“Summer days in Thurles, not hammerings to Dublin” read one placard. Others, distributed by the organisers read “Support Cork’s Hurlers”. Some supporters had made banners urging Frank Murphy, secretary of the CCB, and Gerald McCarthy to resign, but for the most part the messages were positive; full support for last year’s panel.

Players- including hurlers John Gardiner, Seán Óg Ó hAilpín, Donal Óg Cusack, Niall McCarthy, Cathal Naughton, Jerry O'Connor, and Patrick Cronin, and footballers Graham Canty, Noel O’Leary, Daniel Goulding, Anthony Lynch, John Hayes, and Nicholas Murphy, amongst others- took the stage shortly after 4pm to rapturous applause from the crowd.

First to speak was Brian Corcoran. “I take no pleasure in this black period, but I have to defend the honour of these players who I’ve been privileged to play with”, he said. “They’ve been criticised in some quarters, unjustly in my opinion. These guys have sacrificed so much, sweat blood and tears for the cause. I take enormous pride when I see this crowd assembled here today to support these men who are willing to stand up for what they believe.”

“They have been asked to put up and shut up with conditions primed for failure. These guys know what it takes to win; in the four years that Donal O’Grady and John Allen were in charge, they reached eight finals, winning 5. During that period, there was complete harmony in the camp.”

“Some people have labelled these players as difficult, but why was there no trouble then? Four years is a very long time. I was involved for three of those, and the atmosphere was one of total and utter trust. In the last two years, that trust and belief has been eroded.”

“I would like to ask the County Board why, when John Allen stepped down, did they seek to disrupt the set-up? Why did they appoint a manager who didn’t want the job, ignoring others who did? Why, after two years of failure, was there no motivation to change something which didn’t work? These players have the best interests of Cork hurling at heart. Can the County Board say the same?”

“These guys inspired me to come back to hurling. They are my heroes, they are role models. They are not afraid to stand up for what they believe. Cork hurling is lagging behind. The board are killing the senior team. It’s time for the board to prove that they care about hurling. We must support these men. We must ask the board to allow us to believe again”.

The crowd applauded Corcoran’s speech, and a shorter speech read out 2008 captain John Gardiner. Gardiner thanked the fans for their support over the years and during the current crisis. With the players gone, the crowd dwindled, but one remained there more than an hour after events had come to a close; Seán Óg Ó h’Ailpin, who signed shirts, crutches, ugg boots and photos with typically selfless good-humour.

(Photography courtesy of the UCC Express' Mark Jacob)

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