Philip Browne

A sta­dium that is an as­set to Ireland’s Rugby World Cup host­ing hopes

Irish Examiner - Supplement - - FRONT PAGE - Eimear Ryan

At the end of March, a friend texts me pho­tos from the new South Stand. He has a buddy work­ing on the re­de­vel­op­ment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh and has man­aged to fi­na­gle a tour. I en­vi­ously scroll through the pho­tos. It’s half state-of-theart sta­dium, half build­ing site.

Pal­ettes of con­crete are lined up in rows on the side­line; lads in hard hats and visi-vests stride around the place. But the sod looks per­fect.

I moved to the city three years ago, not long af­ter JBM’s Cork beat Lim­er­ick in their most re­cent Mun­ster fi­nal win prior to 2017. I was qui­etly dev­as­tated when the sta­dium was closed for re­de­vel­op­ment. I’d lived in Dublin for years, where one of the great plea­sures in August and Septem­ber was strolling across town to Croke Park on match day. (When you’re from the coun­try, there is some­thing magical about be­ing able to get places with­out hav­ing to drive.)

Lie-in in­stead of get­ting up at the crack of dawn to tear up the M7? Check. Fryup in Rody Boland’s? Check. Pur­chase hats, flags and head­bands on the walk up Dorset St? Check. Dis­creet pre-match pint at Gill’s Cor­ner? Check check.

I was look­ing for­ward to do­ing a ver­sion of the same thing in Cork. Though I love a Mun­ster fi­nal in Sem­ple — the buzz of Lib­erty Square is hard to beat — Páirc Uí Chaoimh was al­ways close to my heart as a venue.

Maybe be­cause it was the site of two happy Mun­ster fi­nals for Tipp fans in 2011 and 2012.

Maybe it was the fact that its ca­pac­ity was that bit smaller than the other flag­ship Mun­ster grounds — 30,000 to Thurles and Lim­er­ick’s 50,000 — which added to the at­mos­phere.

The crowd was al­ways packed and seething. You were nearly al­ways on top of your neigh­bour, but some­how that wasn’t a bad thing. And the sun al­ways seemed to be beat­ing down on the ter­races.

The week­end be­fore the re­de­vel­oped sta­dium opens, I drive down to the Ma­rina for a look. I have tick­ets for the All-Ireland quar­ter-fi­nal be­tween Tipp and Clare and want to reac­quaint my­self with the place. There are cars go­ing in and out of the sta­dium gates but se­cu­rity is tight; it’s not open to the pub­lic yet. It’s eerily quiet, no-one around but a few dog walk­ers.

Be­hind the Black­rock End it’s only a short drop to the At­lantic Pond where placid ducks are cir­cling. Cork flags flut­ter on each peak of the Mar­quee.

It’s strange see­ing spa­ces that are built for large crowds stand­ing va­cant. With­out a match or an Ed Sheeran to bring it to life, the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh is a huge shell of con­crete, steel and glass.

There are still a few baby JCBs parked here and there, as well as skips, traf­fic cones, gal­vanised sheets. I get a brief glimpse of the field — a square of grass framed be­tween con­crete pil­lars — and it looks as per­fect as it did in my friend’s pho­tos. The gates are, of course, painted red.

I start men­tally plot­ting my match-day route. Down to Union Quay, where you can eat an ex­cel­lent brunch while con­tem­plat­ing the view of the brood­ing R&H Hall silo. Out along Cen­tre Park Road, the old in­dus­trial heart of Cork, past the ghosts of Dun­lop and Ford.

Here’s where I start to have child­hood flash­backs, of walk­ing — seem­ingly end­lessly — along the roads of the Ma­rina un­der a canopy of trees.

A quick de­tour to the Sil­ver Key for a sin­gle, pa­tri­otic pint bottle of Bul­mers — match days are the only oc­ca­sions I drink the stuff — and then into the sta­dium.

I’ll try not to worry too much about the out­come of the match. Tipp fans are cau­tiously op­ti­mistic af­ter a de­ci­sive win over Dublin, but it’s al­ways hard to mea­sure your­self ac­cu­rately against a team in cri­sis.

Clare, though their Mun­ster fi­nal per­for­mance left much to be de­sired, are more dan­ger­ous than they’re given credit for.

They rat­tled the wood­work a num­ber of times dur­ing the fi­nal; if those chances had been an inch in the right di­rec­tion, it could have been a dif­fer­ent story.

Pre­sum­ably, Clare will try to do to Tipp what Cork did in the first round of the Mun­ster cham­pi­onship: Out­pace them. Tipp’s full­back line, still set­tling into their roles, will have their hands full with the speedy com­bi­na­tion of O’Don­nell, Shanagher, and McGrath, and will also have to face down pen­e­trat­ing runs from Tony Kelly and Podge Collins. Nei­ther team will be brim­ming with con­fi­dence, and ul­ti­mately it might come down to who has bounced back better from re­cent dis­ap­point­ments.

An­other fac­tor: Which team will set­tle into the shiny new digs more com­fort­ably?

I for one can’t wait to find out.

Pic­ture: Matt Browne/Sports­file

NEW BALL GAME: Aaron Shanagher, left, and Aaron Cun­ning­ham of Clare in ac­tion against Ro­nan Ma­her, left, and Joe O’Dwyer of Tip­per­ary dur­ing the Al­lianz HL clash at Sem­ple Sta­dium.

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