‘We put our money where our mouth was as an association’
Páirc Uí Chaoimh’s newly appointed stadium operations manager, Bob Ryan, on the challenges faced and obstacles overcome in delivering a state-of-the-art facility in the heart of Cork.
Q: When did the redevelopment of Pairc Ui Chaoimh become a reality for you?
I’m involved since 2010, when I was vice-chairman of the board. I was involved in the early planning of the redevelopment, the appointment of different consultations and so on. Then we got into the planning process, the An Bord Pleanála appeals process, and then it went out to tender. There was the challenge of getting the right contractor, manoeuvring the systems to get the best deal for the GAA ... it consumes you, really. It’s been relentless for three or four years.
Q: In a project of that size, do the headaches come out of nowhere alongside the expected challenges?
Absolutely. In May 2014 we were lucky enough to get a grant of €30 million from the Government — and then a process began in relation to European funding, which was something we never foresaw.
It took 18 months to get that over the line in terms of competition law and so on — that was certainly an education, something we never dreamed of facing. We were thinking it was more along the lines of clubs getting Lotto grants long ago, maybe, but this was a hugely involved process. The complications of getting finance in place, making sure everyone was paid ... those were all challenges. You had to communicate with people, argue with them — and then sit down for a cup of tea with them an hour later. That’s construction.
Q: Did the upturn in the economy present particular challenges in getting good quality workers, for instance?
We probably just hit the upturn in the construction economy and that meant prices were going up. That was one challenge.
And getting good labour was another, certainly. A lot of very good people had left for Australia and America, for instance.
We were lucky that Sisk’s are such an experience company. Tough operators who extract the best deal for Sisk’s, which is their prerogative, but they also get the best people to work for them, so that was a huge help.
Q: How beneficial will the new stadium be to the city and county?
It’s a unique project to have a big stadium in the middle of a public park, so the interfaces between us and Cork City Council are interesting. It’ll be a learning process but we’ve built a good section of the public park for the city as part of the agreement. The facility is going to benefit the entire city and county in many ways. This weekend there’ll be a huge influx of visitors to the city; by last weekend both stands were sold out for both days (All-Ireland quarter-finals). That’s 46,000 people before the terraces are considered. There isn’t a hotel room available in Cork this weekend either.
Q: How significant will other events be — not just concerts, other sporting events?
American football, all of that is in the mix, and we’d be only too happy to get any deals and games we can in that regard. Obviously our key focus is on promoting our own games and making sure they are looked after, and ultimately the plan is that the stadium will feed in finance to build up Cork teams and underage development squads, and so on.
The Rugby World Cup, which we all hope will happen, would be huge. We’ve met several times with the bid team and we’d hope to have at least four major games in Cork during that tournament. That’s exciting. Cork is a sports-mad city and county after all and people would love to have those sports there, American football included. That fits the bill and anything that fits the bill would be considered — with due regard to the requirements of Cork and the rules of the GAA generally.
Q: Are people going to be impressed by the wow factor of the new stadium when they go in for the first time?
I think anyone who’s seen it will agree that it’s an absolutely outstanding stadium. Anywhere you sit or stand you’ll see the game comfortably, the sight lines are terrific — it’ll be a totallly different experience, you’ll essentially be watching a game in the same way as you would in Croke Park.
Q: You mentioned spectator comfort: is that better in the new stadium?
There’s no doubt that the old stadium was no longer fit for purpose from every aspect — for the punter coming in, it wasn’t an enjoyable experience, everybody accepts that. From the player’s perspective, the old stadium’s facilities were archaic.
On all those counts, and health and safety, all of that, those are a million times better in the new stadium.
Q: How disappointing was it that the original opening date wasn’t met, then?
We just took a decision that it wasn’t ready — on so many different levels. Health and safety was one consideration but there were a lot of other areas that weren’t ready to our satisfaction. And anyway you wouldn’t be allowed by the GAA to have a fixture if everything wasn’t ready, and rightly so.
Q: How important was buy- in from the local residents in facilitating the work?
That was huge, and I have to compliment them. I know well it had to be frustrating at times if you had small kids, say, with the noise and the dirt and dust and so on. They were very patient and accommodating, though, and hopefully that will continue. We’ll certainly give them the respect that needs to be given.
Q: How significant is the stadium redevelopment in terms of the city’s expansion down the river?
We’ve played our part in that. We’re delighted to be the first, we put our money where our mouth was as an Association. We’ve put €35 million into the project out of our own coffers, which is a serious investment for an amateur organisation — and we’ll back that up with resources to make it work, too. In that regard, (GAA director) Paraic Duffy has been absolutely outstanding. Super. His approach and support were superb, he was always available for a call, hugely helpful — it was a great back-up to have.
Q: Is the County Board keen to have people use the facility on non-match days?
Very much so, and the infrastructure is in place to make that a reality. When the public park moves onto a stage where it’s usable, we’ll certainly be there. It’ll be a great place on a summer’s day for people, to stroll down to the Atlantic Pond or along the Marina with their kids and then to have a coffee in the Páirc. We feel it’s a facility that’s unsurpassed in the country, a top-class venue that will benefit Cork and the Munster area hugely. Technologically it’s now one of the most modern stadia in the western world, for instance. There are 1,650 data points now in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. That’s 1,650 more than there were before — that’s how different it is.