IT was gala day in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday last as ten long years of planning, building and plenty frustration and setbacks came to fruition with the opening of the new stadium, version 2.
Little did we think back in 1976 when we packed into the new Pairc Uí Chaoimh that within forty years that amazing building, a huge step for Cork GAA at the time, would become unfit for purpose and be razed to the ground to provide a complete new headquarters for the GAA in Cork.
Without a doubt the new stadium has shown, in many ways, what a huge difference has taken place in Irish society over the past forty years. Back in 1976 the step-up from the old, antiquated Athletic Grounds to a huge stadium was like going from the Stone Age to the Nuclear Age.
The new stadium couldn’t hold the crowds that turned up for the opening games in 1976 and nobody complained at the lack of comfort for the public or the lack of facilities and the tiny dressing-rooms for the players. It was a marvel of its time and served Cork GAA very well, a vision come true for men like the late Con Murphy.
Forty years on and what did we see on Sunday last? A fabulous new stadium, state-of-the-art, comfortable seating for 21,000, high-tech technology, a premium level, 30 food and beverage outlets, a 4G pitch outside, top-class facilities and dressing rooms for players, marvellous press facilities, ease of access and exit. In short, everything the old stadium lacked, and credit to everybody involved in the work.
What was missing? The people. Where were the supporters? In 1976, they crowded them in along the sidelines for the first Munster final in the stadium, on Sunday last the terraces that could have held 23,000 were practically empty. Only 16,000 turned up for this gala occasion for Cork GAA.
I don’t know about the County Board Executive, but I was deeply disappointed at this lack of interest and appreciation by the public in Cork, especially the GAA public, at the magnificent provision of this state-of-the-art stadium. I know if I was one of the steering committee who had put thousands of hours of dedicated, unpaid, hard work into this building, I would have felt let-down and angry at our GAA people in Cork. They deserved better than a crowd of 16,000.
After all, almost 6,000 had packed into a battered Turner’s Cross earlier in the week to watch a nil-all soccer match. On Sunday we had two county senior finals on offer, the top two games in Cork GAA.
Time was, not too long ago, when a county hurling final would draw almost 30,000 on its own, the mini All-Ireland.’ Where has that interest gone, what do the public want?
Maybe the weather the previous week didn’t lend itself to a big crowd and, definitely, the lack of parking within easy reach of the stadium is a huge draw-back, but that doesn’t explain the lack of interest and the declining crowds, as evidenced on Sunday. Going on Sunday, bar a top-class Munster hurling final, will we ever see the new stadium full to capacity for a game?
There is no problem in selling it out for three concerts next May by Ed Sheeran, but why is the public deserting our games?
We didn’t allow the small attendance to take from a very special occasion. When will we ever again see two county senior finals on the same day?
What of those games? St Finbarr’s scored 3-13 in the football final and lost. Imokilly scored exactly the same in the hurling final and won.
The Barr’s would probably have won every football final in memory with that score, but they forgot they had to defend at the other end of the pitch. You don’t give Nemo four goals and expect to beat them, but the Barr’s very nearly did.
Undoubtedly, the long break for injury to a Nemo player early on, and everybody’s thoughts were with him for the day, broke rampant Barrs’ momentum when they were four points up and Nemo took full advantage to lead at half time, a false picture of the game. Nemo showed what they were capable of in the third quarter but, as in the drawn final, faded alarmingly on the run-in.
Why? Lack of physical strength, especially around the centre, against a huge Barrs’ team didn’t help, but how fit is this Nemo squad? On this performance we would be amazed if they win out Munster.
Twenty titles is not to be sneezed at and Nemo are Nemo. Even with a team that is far from the dominant teams of yore they can win counties. With so many of our West Cork teams experiencing a decline in fortunes, we could see Nemo winning a lot more titles over the coming decade.
Or, maybe the Barr’s will take over? They were naive on Sunday, lacked a cutting edge, depended too much on Sherlock for scores and some of their defending was embarrassing, but they are young, have huge size and great potential. Whether they can take another step forward is the question.
What players will Ronan McCarthy be looking at from this game? To me, Paul Kerrigan stood out for his work rate and leadership and we know what he has to offer.
Ian Maguire is a must for midfield, but needs to work on his stamina, while young Stephen Sherlock definitely shows promise.
Luke Connolly’s goal was the highlight of the game, but his overall contribution is still suspect. Still, he has to be included.
While the standard in the football game was satisfactory, we were very disappointed with the lack of intensity in the hurling game. The first half was extremely flat but the second half improved, without ever producing the cut and thrust of real championship hurling.
Imokilly were the better side, more mature on the day, but a young, developing Blackrock had their chances, especially in the second half, to win. They, like the Barr’s in football, have the potential and we were impressed with Michael O’Halloran and Alan O’Callaghan.
Established stars like Séamie Harnedy didn’t stand out, but his goal was a beauty. Brian Lawton worked hard and young Ger Mellerick looked one for the future, but if I were John Meyler, I would be worried about the lack of bite in Cork hurling overall, going on this final. I would be amazed if Rockies overcome Thurles Sarsfields in the Munster championship.
The victory of Imokilly again highlights the presence of divisional teams in the Cork championships and this topic should be well aired in the next few weeks.
We just beat the rain on the long walk back to the car on Sunday but we had enjoyed the privilege of attending a second official opening of Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Many great GAA people we knew who attended the first back in 1976 never made it this far, ar dheis Dé go raibh siad go léir.
It’s doubtful, though, if we’ll manage to see the third. - Slán go Fóill