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