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Ciarán Murphy: What was the point of spending €96m on Páirc Uí Chaoimh?

If a concert trumps the importance of Cork hosting big games, questions must be asked

I was trying to think of an analogy for the story that emerged this week about Cork moving – to other venues – two of the three senior hurling and football championship games they were scheduled to play in their brand new, €100 million stadium in 2022.

Is this all not a little like remortgaging your own house to buy a holiday home, and then working 52 weeks a year for the next 10 years to pay it off?

I have spoken to Cork GAA people of my acquaintance and they reassure me that this is no big deal. In fact, they tell me that there's an argument that Cork stand a better chance of beating Clare in Thurles, and the Kerry footballers in Páirc Uí Rinn, than they would if they were playing in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Through that rather narrow prism, this may well be the case. Kieran Kingston was asked about it during the week and he made a rather startling observation – "being brutally honest, if you had a straw poll tomorrow among the Cork players about playing in Cork or Thurles, it'd be 50-50".

I’m sure Kingston had no interest in sparking a row with his own county board over this issue and so maybe he was just being diplomatic. But if the results of that poll are true, then the question begs to be asked – why didn’t they take that poll before they spent €96 million on their stadium?

Of course, the Cork players aren't and weren't the only people who might have had their doubts about whether that kind of spending was the right thing to do for the GAA in Cork city.

Maybe the GAA will throw the Páirc a hurling quarter-final or two at the end of the summer to help redress the balance

The arguments over whether they were right to build the stadium are nothing new to those who have followed this story over the last 10 years; it just seems those making the arguments appear to have switched sides in this particular case.

I have always been sympathetic to those voices in Cork GAA who wanted a ‘statement’ stadium in the country’s second city. But once you’ve spent the money, and built the stadium to rave reviews, you can’t then start saying that moving games out of the stadium is actually nothing to be worried about.

They play Limerick in the opening weekend of the Munster hurling championship on April 17th, and that will be the first and last game that Cork senior teams play at home in the championship this year.

Concert mode

After that, the stadium 'switches to concert mode', as the Cork GAA statement says, for the arrival of Ed Sheeran. The GAA loaned them a lot of money to keep it 'in GAA mode' during the championship season, and while Ed Sheeran will surely help to repay that loan, Central Council might also have expected them to be able to show off the fruits of their investment a couple of more times this year than one game in the middle of April.

Maybe the GAA will throw the Páirc a hurling quarter-final or two at the end of the summer to help redress the balance.

But this is still doublethink of the first order. Paying the bills by forgetting about the principal reason you’re in business in the first place is just crazy, whatever way you want to dress it up.

Again, we are told no one sees too much of a problem with this. Kieran Kingston said this week “it’s not a surprise we’re not playing in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Cork supporters like going to Thurles, tickets won’t be an issue, and the player group is happy to play in Thurles”.

I don't see that Páirc Uí Rinn necessarily helps the Cork footballers as they try and beat Kerry in the Munster semi-final

The fact that they play All-Ireland champions Limerick in that opening round of Munster hurling fixtures in the new Páirc puts one in mind of the best occasion in the ground since it reopened, the classic 2018 draw between the teams that had a crowd of 35,000 people inside the walls for a stunningly good Saturday evening atmosphere.

That entire evening looked like what the GAA could be in 20 years’ time, when more and more of our games are played in modern, comfortable, state-of-the-art stadiums. When the experience of the majority of match-day fans in any ground can be something more than wearing your back out on your feet on a terrace for two hours or more.

I don’t see that Páirc Uí Rinn necessarily helps the Cork footballers as they try and beat Kerry in the Munster semi-final, but it’s true that it might not harm their, admittedly rather slim, chances.

People will say that Cork/Kerry might only get 20,000 people in any case – but that’s a reason not to build the stadium; it hardly qualifies as a reason not to use it when it’s already been built.

The Páirc was built to host Cork and Kerry games in the Munster senior football championship. That is its raison d’être. And if welcoming the Kingdom once every two years isn’t its main purpose on this planet, then what the hell is?

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