Vive la difference in stadium mark II
LIKE Barry Fitzgerald’s horse and trap in The Quiet Man, a lot of cars will start making a long-accustomed stop once again this weekend.
The long walk down under the trees by the river is back.
The steep descent out of Ballintemple is back.
The alternative approach out of Blackrock village is back.
That’s because the building becoming more and more visible in those quick cross-river glances as you roll in from Tivoli, the stands and floodlights rising above the trees, is back.
As of this weekend Páirc Uí Chaoimh II is open for business.
Well, last Wednesday night, strictly speaking.
And this weekend you have four counties descending on Cork for the All-Ireland senior hurling quarter-finals, a weekend of games to kickstart the new place, so local representation may be at a premium. Still, no second acts in American lives, said F Scott Fitzgerald; here an entire stadium emerges from the dust to provide a venue for second, third and fourth acts.
Now that the venue is back after a couple of years’ remodelling, it’s clear the differences aren’t cosmetic. Gone is the crumbling stonework and the tired facades, the treacherous inclines on the terrace and the seating cursed by every spectator of non-Bilbo Baggins proportions. What’s replaced it? A stadium for the 21st century. In this supplement one of the key men sums up the difference between the two stadia by pointing to the 1,650 data points in the new venue, adding, “that’s 1,650 more data points than the old Páirc.”
The difference isn’t just technological. The new stadium looks better, but given how low the bar was set by its predecessor, that’s a backhanded compliment.
Something that’s been skilfully retained is the old ‘bowl’ alignment of stands and terraces which made the old stadium so attractive to players: despite the shortcomings outside the whitewash, there was always a consensus among those on the field of play about the rocking atmosphere of a full Páirc, the waves of noise rolling down and reverberating around the playing area as a game moved towards the crucial stages. Now the old stadium is gone, will a cloud of nostalgia descend over spectators as they begin to filter into the ground?
It’s only human nature to look back through rosetinted glasses, after all. Our guess is that that will run parallel to the player experience mentioned above: just as the memory of a cramped dressing-room recedes in favour of the final whistle in a county semifinal won against the odds, spectators are likely to focus on the shot of adrenaline experienced as a captain heaved silverware into the sky under the shadow of the old stand.
On the grounds of novelty alone every county will be keen to have a run-out in the new house, though clearly sides in Munster will be keen to acclimatise as quickly as possible. That’s an even stronger imperative for Cork teams and teams in Cork, to distinguish between the two, with the former anxious to create a winning tradition as quickly as they can in the stadium, and the latter anxious to work out which goal is at the scoring end when it comes to local disputes.
KEEP an eye — or an ear, more likely — out for the quick flowering of myths about the new place, by the way.
The lucky dressing-room is a perennial question in any venue — your memory may remind you of the supposed lucky dressing-room when a lot of soccer games were played in the Millennium Stadium, for example — and it’d be a surprise if the new Pairc Ui Chaoimh makes it to this autumn’s county finals without one of the changing areas becoming a specific target for the competing clubs. It’s this one; no, it’s this one; how did we lose the toss-up to get it for the final?
That’s the minutiae. Broaden out the context and Páirc Uí Chaoimh is a marker of the direction the city is taking, working its way down the long-neglected river corridor towards Blackrock, an echo, perhaps, of what Barcelona did a couple of years ago in turning itself around to face the sea.
In that regard the stadium’s reopening is a huge boost to the entire region.
For parallels, think of the American municipal authorities which are always desperate to have a major sports franchise locate their teams in their cities. In those cities, having a presence in the major leagues brings huge benefits in terms of reputation and standing that go beyond sport; for Cork, having a stadium that fits the county’s sense of itself in sport and beyond is more a statement of the facts.
There are more tangible benefits, too. This coming weekend the supporters of Clare, Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford are expected to stream in their tens of thousands into the city and surrounding areas. Hotel rooms are at a premium in the city and bars, restaurants and cafes in the area are surely counting the hours to the first sighting of cars with TN or CE registrations.
That kind of economic boost has been missing from Cork for over two years. Despite the general recovery, those are visitor numbers any part of Ireland would miss, and the flip side is the number of Cork supporters heading out of town to support their own sides. In this year’s Munster championships Cork played two thirds of their two dozen games in other counties, a sizeable financial commitment for those following the blood and bandage.
Expect some hiccups over the next couple of weeks, as people get accustomed to the new dispensation. You’ve got to go in a new gate, and leave by a different route. The toilets are no longer where they were. Your old parking spot, known only to you and a couple of thousand others, may not exist any longer. That’s only to be expected.
What may not be expected is your reaction to your first view of the stadium from the inside. Enjoy it.
DRESSING IT UP: County jersies hanging in the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh dressing room. Included are jersies for Tipperary and Clare, Cork, Wexford and Waterford.