The new field of dreams
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