Last weekend was supposed to be the opening round of the Munster hurling championship, Cork versus Limerick at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Jim Healy, former runaí of the old minor board and current Rebel Óg board reflects on what might have been and the exciting days ahead.
'IF only we were heading to the Park last Sunday...
Looking at the many supporters coming down from Limerick coming through Charleville, Buttevant and Mallow, into Blackpool and onto the City for this eagerly awaited game.
Green and White flags, out the windows, supporters decked in the Treaty Jerseys, many others travelling East from Limerick to join the M8 on the way to Cork, and meeting the Eastern cavalcade at the Dunkettle interchange and then through the Jack Lynch Tunnel, via Mahon and Blackrock.
Of course they would be joined by the Rebel brigade, those from the Mid and West Cork would join the throngs on the M25 and proceed to a suitable parking spot in Ballinlough, Beaumont, Boreenmanna Road and Ballintemple, they too with the familiar red and white on what should have been a great day for Munster hurling. Cork city and suburbs would be thronged.
Cars being parked, specially hired buses dropping off supporters at a designated spot and all then heading for an eatery or even a hostelry to enjoy some food, a drink and wonderful banter before heading towards the venue. Alas Covid-19 put paid to our escapades.
We were in the height of this pandemic for a while but being the nature of the beast in us we hoped that, t’will be alright by May. If only!
I am now an 80-year-old and have been attending games of all descriptions since I was a young boy with my parents. This has been the only year when we have had no games and unlikely to have for some time, if any at all in 2020.
Going back to 1956 we had a cancellation for some weeks due to the Polio epidemic in Cork, while in the early 2000’s we lost some weeks due to foot and mouth.
Going to the Cork Athletic Grounds as it was in the 1950s/1960s or as many called it, the Park, was almost a weekly excursion. Down through Ballintemple Village, turn left onto park lane, right at the end and around the side of the Atlantic Pond before entering at the Blackrock end of the ground.
Here you had, leading towards the City end, a good viewing bank practically the length of the pitch, with the Munster Agricultural Show Grounds at your back. The pitch perimeter fencing was by and large a corrugated one. Inside this fencing a small amount of seating was provided for those lucky enough to get a seat.
The Marina side had a stand with dressing rooms underneath, and in front it had a fine side-line of good concrete seating with good viewing. However, the place to be, whether it was a club championship or a Munster championship the place for the excitement and banter was on the bank.
Very often during the winter period the Atlantic Pond would flood, causing entrance to the grounds difficult. This resulted in the GAA placing timber planks in the area close to the turnstiles, to ensure our feet were kept dry.
The Athletic Grounds closed in 1974 for development and from it, in 1976, emerged Páirc Uí Chaoimh (again the Park) to us regulars.
One of its first major fixtures was the Munster senior football final of 1976, Cork v Kerry, with a huge crowd in attendance. Such was the crowd that day, even though people had tickets, sitting on one’s allotted seat became impossible, with many being advised to sit wherever they saw a vacancy. The game ended in a draw Cork 0-10 Kerry 0-10.
Because of an arrangement with the two counties the finals when they were in opposition were played either in alternative years in Killarney or Cork. As Cork had travelled in successive years to Killarney the replay was scheduled for Cork.
Another huge crowd attended and for good value they had extra time. After the allotted time it was Cork 2-16 to Kerry 3-13, but at the end of extra time the result read Kerry 3-20 to Cork’s 2-19.
That of course was the day of two controversial decisions, when first, Kerry were awarded a debatable goal and almost immediately at the other end Cork had a goal disallowed.
In the intervening years we had many good times at the venue before it was eventually demolished to give way to our new state-of-the-art Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Covid-19 has now caused and is likely to cause a lengthy period of inactivity. Let’s hope when we return that having been so long from travelling to the Park that we won’t get lost on our way! The important matter is that we all stay well, and stay safe.
As a Rockies supporter, I must admit we had some good days at the Park, county champions in 1956 after a lapse of 25 years, winning again in 1961, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1978, 1979, a great decade that also included (five Munster club and three All-Ireland club titles), with county titles again in 1985, 1999, 2001 and 2002.
Every year my optimism lends me to predict a Blackrock county title. Having good success at minor and U21 level in recent years we are overdue a senior crown, nothing is a given, but I still hope.
However, will we even see games in 2020 let alone with a Blackrock win. We wait impatiently.
For good measure the sister club St Michael's (The Dazzlers) made it a double in 1956 when winning the county junior football title. They have competed with distinction in the intervening period wining a County Intermediate title in 1969 and unsuccessfully contested three senior football titles in the late 1970’s.
They are currently playing in the Senior B in football, but following county final victories by the minors in 2018 and U21s in 2019 hopes are high of their return to the Premier Senior Grade.
While we were cocooning over the recent past, thanks to the TV we had re-runs of some exciting inter-county games, including some Cork ones. These in themselves were enjoyable, but, it is difficult to beat the real live encounter.
Fan sa Bhaile... Jim Healy