The new field of dreams

Irish Examiner - Supplement - - PÁIRC UÍ CHAOIMH SPECIAL - John Cole­man

It’s hard not to be im­pressed by it. Any­body who reg­u­larly drives into the city via the Lower Glan­mire Road is, by now, used to the sight of the ex­pan­sive South Stand wel­com­ing them to Cork. Climb a lit­tle higher up to­wards Lover’s Walk and it looks even better, mag­nif­i­cent even.

You could see the old stand too of course, but all you could re­ally say about it is that it was there. That’s the thing though; it’s hard to talk about the new Páirc with­out think­ing about the old one. Ev­ery­one in Cork knew it had to go but there were also mul­ti­ple opinions on what the cor­rect course of ac­tion should be.

Now that it’s built, many con­trary views still re­main. While speak­ing to friends over the past few weeks, many still agree with the point of view put for­ward by Derek Kavanagh in these pages last year.

A cen­tre of ex­cel­lence at an ac­ces­si­ble green­field site might be a better idea. This would give the chance for a 16-year-old to train at the same venue and at the same time as the Cork se­niors and this would be a huge source of in­spi­ra­tion for all of the young pre­tenders.

We’d all like to see that, par­tic­u­larly when we see what’s hap­pen­ing in other coun­ties. But then again, there’s no govern­ment money for that type of project.

And yet, we’re all ca­pa­ble of hope­less ro­man­ti­cism. People do dream. And there’s no doubt that young people in Cork will dream about grac­ing the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

The people who played and watched games in the old Páirc still have the abil­ity to get ut­terly lost in those mem­o­ries. The glow of nos­tal­gia can even turn hairy mo­ments of in­ter­ac­tion with fans in the tun­nel and warm­ing up in ‘the gym’ into cher­ished mem­o­ries.

We do need some­thing to dream for and the new sta­dium is def­i­nitely some­thing tan­gi­ble to be proud of.

And you were al­ways proud to play in the Páirc, or even train in the Páirc if you were lucky enough. As many have said it was, and will be, an ab­so­lute priv­i­lege. So in a way, even though the sta­dium is com­pletely new, noth­ing has re­ally changed at all.

It’s a bit like Th­e­seus’s para­dox, a para­dox that was best ex­plained by Trig­ger in Only Fools and Horses.

Trig­ger in­forms his friends that he’s get­ting an award for us­ing the same brush in his job for 20 years. He’s only changed the head 17 times and the han­dle 14 times! So, is the spirit of the Páirc more im­por­tant than its phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tion?

Maybe it is. Ev­ery player in Cork wants to be there. That will never change. It’s where all the big games are, where you get a chance to play like you want be re­mem­bered.

It’s much fancier and shinier than its pre­de­ces­sor and maybe that makes it more be­com­ing of the gen­er­a­tion com­ing through. Any­one who at­tended the Cork mi­nor games re­cently would have no­ticed how the young play­ers of to­day are a dif­fer­ent breed al­to­gether.

They’re sculpted, con­fi­dent and am­bi­tious in a dif­fer­ent way to pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions. They won’t be run­ning around the tun­nels of the Páirc (and not just be­cause there isn’t one).

One of the great­est things about the GAA is its util­i­tar­i­an­ism. The GAA is about ev­ery­one, not just the elite. From pri­mary school chil­dren who might never pick up a hur­ley again to aged foot­ballers who fall in to make up the num­bers when the club is short.

The chance of play­ing in Páirc Uí Chaoimh has al­ways been there for all of them. It is im­per­a­tive this re­mains, that the sta­dium doesn’t become too sani­tised, too dis­tant in the way that Croke Park has. All schools and all clubs need to get to use it as it be­longs to ev­ery­one. And this is a fact that must be re­mem­bered.

Let’s row against the cur­rent once more, into the past. When the original Páirc opened in 1976 the dock­lands were alive with thou­sands of work­ers flock­ing to Ford’s and Dun­lop’s. In the 40 years since life has been squeezed out of the area.

Maybe the Páirc can be a sym­bol of re­newal, not just for the GAA, but for Cork too. With fur­ther projects planned for the area maybe Cork can awaken from its slum­ber. The GAA is as much part of the com­mu­nity as it as a com­mu­nity in it­self and with the new sta­dium maybe the GAA author­i­ties in Cork can re-con­nect with its mem­bers and its fol­low­ers.

It’s a chance for the GAA in Cork to leap for­ward, to use the money from con­certs and con­fer­ences to make cen­tres of ex­cel­lence hap­pen.

It’s a chance for open­ness and trans­parency and to in­clude rather than ex­clude. It’s a one-off chance that has to be grasped.

If it’s done right, the pos­si­bil­i­ties are end­less.

John Cole­man is a for­mer Ballinhas­sig player who takes a keen in­ter­est in all things GAA in Cork and be­yond

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