When the future becomes the present
It was interesting to hear James O’Donoghue talk after this year’s Munster football final about players in their late 20s being at the prime age to perform at inter-county level.
Given that benchmark, the mind boggles at what the new doyen of Cork hurling Mark Coleman can achieve in the years to come. Brian Corcoran was the last 19-year-old Cork player to make such an impact in a debut championship season, winning an All-Star and a Hurler of the Year award.
The young wing back from Blarney is surely a shoo-in already for the former — and the latter is well within his compass if he continues performing at the stratospheric levels we are already in danger of taking for granted.
Coleman’s swift rise is all the more remarkable considering his slight physical stature when compared to the Erin’s Own colossus. He is a precocious gem of exceptional quality whose pure hurling ability and astute understanding of the game has Cork supporters drooling.
Last Wednesday evening’s Round 3 Premier Intermediate Hurling championship fixture between Valley Rovers and Blarney marked a beginning and an end: An end of the process of redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh first mooted nearly a decade ago, and the start of a new narrative for Cork GAA.
So whether by accident or design, it was fitting that the new boy wonder of Cork hurling was among the first to play in the new Páirc when it opened two nights ago. On such momentous occasions, symbolism is important and the new, the possible and the yet to be imagined was encapsulated beautifully in the synergy of player and structure. A new era beckons for the GAA in Cork.
And so the drone cameras, the digitally-enhanced images and time-lapse videos can finally be put aside. They served their purpose in helping us to visualise the end product, maintaining our spirits as the concrete trucks rolled in and out of the Marina, tickling our enthusiasm and keeping us updated at defining points along the way. All very welcome, but the real deal is here now in the flesh and we have much to look forward to.
Much robust debate took place up and down the county around the idea of a new Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Was Ballintemple still the most appropriate venue? Should the capacity be reduced? What about the need for training facilities and centres of excellence? It is both impossible and unnecessary to address all these questions now, but on one in particular I am very certain.
For those of us from the pre Jack Lynch Tunnel generation the Páirc was the landmark to welcome you home to the city as you travelled in from the East. From the skew bridge on the opposite side of the river, the daunting edifice stood tall, almost triumphant on the Blackrock peninsula, evoking the great names of Cork GAA past and present. Even now in my mid-40s I can recall vividly as a young boy on the road home looking forward in anticipation to the brief glimpse of the stadium the Lower Glanmire Road would afford me. It wasn’t just about that magic sense of being home. It always prompted in me a longing to follow in the footsteps of giants, to know what it was like to be JBM or Billy Morgan playing in front of 40,000 expectant Cork supporters. It provoked me to imagine how it felt charging out of the tunnel in front of a thronged Páirc, and I consider myself privileged to have experienced that thrill a few times in my ca- reer. As a landmark to welcome Corkonians home and as a colosseum to stoke the passions of budding stars, I am delighted it has remained in the same location. Each child coming over the skew bridge in Tivoli in years to come should cherish the infinite fantasies and possibilities those few seconds offer. No one can ever take them away.
The new Páirc Uí Chaoimh is also a statement of intent. A vote of confidence in the future of Cork GAA. It clearly underlines the status of football and hurling as the number one sports in Cork. In the home of ROG, Sonia, and Roy, this is particularly important and should never be taken for granted. Like most sports-mad Cork people, football and hurling haven’t been the only staple in my sporting diet, and I have been lucky enough to visit many stadiums and witness a variety of sports occasions all over the world. I have seen both the Yankees and the Patriots play at home and the Juventus of Vialli and Del Piero in a Champions League semi-final in Turin. I was at the miracle match in Thomond versus Gloucester and saw Ireland take a 45-10 trouncing in the Parc de Princes in 1996 as the French of Saint-André, Ntamack and Castaignède ran riot from every corner of the pitch.
They are all significant markers in my sporting and life journey but it is also worth noting that all of these teams now play in new locations or redeveloped stadiums. The epic occasions didn’t stop happening and the world didn’t stop turning. Cork GAA has nothing to fear. The new PUC will generate its own stories, its own history, but not straight away.
There are many challenges ahead, and it is important that we acknowledge they will take time to overcome. All Arsenal supporters know that the transition to a new stadium is not straightforward, and Arsène Wenger has recently warned his North London rivals Spurs about the difficulties ahead as they transfer to a new ground. Wenger explained the challenge is because “you don’t feel at home like you were before” and there is a “need to recreate a kind of history to feel comfortable and to feel like you play at home”. He predicted it would take up to two years for Spurs to make the adjustment. It highlights the need for Cork supporters, players and administrators to demonstrate patience in giving the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh time to develop its own annals and archives.
When you think that a soccer team could play at home over 20 times in a season between league, cup and European games, one might fear it could take years for our inter-county teams to establish some sense of home.
But soccer teams generally don’t train in the stadiums they play in, preferring dedicated training centres. Our Cork teams will, we anticipate, train regularly from next winter in the state-of-the-art gym and all-weather facility adjacent to the stadium. This will be a very helpful part of the initiation and settling-in process. Anybody who has had the pleasure of attending nighttime league fixtures in Croke Park or elsewhere knows that these evenings generate an atmosphere all their own. Páirc Uí Rinn has served us well but upcoming league campaigns will have a significant role to play over the next two seasons as our senior teams bed into the stadium.
Other obvious opportunities are on the horizon. In 10 years, the redeveloped Croke Park has already generated its own folklore through our national games but it is hard not to argue that an Ireland v England rugby match provided the defining moment of its existence. For the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Ireland’s likely hosting of the Rugby World Cup will ensure a new string that the old bow never had. Not to mention concerts. Much as some traditionalists might be loath to admit it, the many concerts in the old Páirc contributed valuably to the Páirc’s own history as well as coffers. From Siamsa Cois Laoi right through to The Boss, they are bookmarks in our own lives and the life of the stadium. Ed Sheeran has much to live up to next year. It’s not just a concert he’s having, it’s a history he is starting.
Administrators too must keep in mind what makes the GAA what it is. The danger is that they will aim to recoup the considerable costs of the stadium too quickly. Last July myself, my wife and five children were able to attend the Cork v Donegal qualifier match in Croke Park for €85. A double header in Croker with Galway v Kildare, Lower Cusack, €5 per child: happy days and a stock of cherished memories despite the result. The GAA at its brilliant best.
Establishing our county teams in the new stadium is obviously essential, but I believe the greatest challenge facing the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh is that it must become a focal point not only for GAA patrons but for all Corkonians and others further afield who we hope will associate the new stadium, the City of Cork and the people of Cork with bookmark moments in their lives. The Sciath Na Scol finals, school sports, the Atlantic pond, the Marina walk, the County finals. I hope and expect these will all remain an integral part of the stadium story as they were before.
The old stadium was a very bleak place in the depths of the off-season. The massive conference centre, the catering facilities, the training centre, and the administration offices will ensure that the stadium is a constant hive of activity and a central meeting point for organisations and communities whatever their allegiance.
There is so much to anticipate that will mark this stadium apart from its predecessor. The opportunities are endless if we can summon the same creativity and imagination as our children on the skew bridge in Tivoli. And of course we look forward to doing it all again in 40 years’ time. That I may be here to see it. Here’s hoping...
NEW VISION:A supporter snaps the spectacular view from the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh’s main stand. The new stadium is a vote of confidence in the future of Cork GAA, says Ronan McCarthy. Picture: Cathal Noonan