When the fu­ture be­comes the present

Irish Examiner - Supplement - - PÁIRC UÍ CHAOIMH SPECIAL - Ro­nan McCarthy

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

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