‘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.

Irish Examiner - Supplement - - PÁIRC UÍ CHAOIMH SPECIAL - In­ter­view by Michael Moyni­han

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.

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