IF YOU are like me, you are badly missing sporting action. The nostalgia shows have filled a gap, sure, but I think I've moved on to the next stage of grief and I'm even starting to miss the stadiums the games were being played in.
I'm not as regular a visitor to live games as I once was. But part of the devotion we have for sports is significantly down to the cathedrals in which we watch them. Even when just watching on TV.
A lot of what we remember and appreciate from our experience of a match is down to the location and the atmosphere when we watched it.
There are certain criteria for a great stadium, size, proximity to the action, even facilities play a roll in how we appreciate a venue. But there is also something else, far beyond the tangible concrete and terracing of the structure, something that cements a venue in a fan's heart.
For what it's worth, here are my thoughts on some of the stadiums that have become dear to me over the year.
I always have a soft spot for Páiric Uí Chaoimh. It was one of the first places I went to see a 'big game', and that was with my uncles to see the Bantry Blues play Nemo Rangers in the 1981 Cork SFC final. Unfortunately, a horrible wet day and Bantry losing the match took a bit of the gloss off the event. A better memory of the Páiric was the 1985 Munster hurling final between Cork and Tipperary where there was mighty excitement in a thrilling 4-17 to 4-11 victory over the Premier, a masterclass in skill and entertainment. But to be fair, hurling purists would opt for the trip to Tipp and Semple Stadium as the best hurling venue. The long walk to the ground, the colour and the festival feeling, as well as it being the home of the game and a real hurling pitch makes it a far more treasured experience than Páiric Uí Chaoimh, which even though it is in a far more attractive location than Semple, is not as desirable for hurling.
Croke Park is a fantastic venue. The history, size, and the accomplishment involved in getting to play there alone makes it the jewel in the GAA crown. Croker has a big stadium vibe about it unlike any other stadium in the country. It has an atmosphere all of its own even when it is empty. It can generate its own weather where confusing jet streams have caught many a free-kick taker, thinking there was no wind blowing down the 'Canal End'. But it is HQ and apart for the Dubs, it is not really home to anyone.
For my GAA choice, it has to be Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney. And while it's a place that crushed many a Cork ambition, when the Rebels have won in the Kingdom there is no better joy than doing it on their own doorstep. There is a great air in Killarney. The ground is small enough to make it intimate while big enough to create an atmosphere. But the real selling point is the location. Is there a more aesthetically attractive location for a stadium in the country than Killarney? It is a feast for the eye. On a fine day, the dark blue mountains stand in contrast to the green fields and the glistening lakes. And on more than one occasion, unfortunately, it has been a relief to look off over Carrantuohill than look at the massacre being played out on the field.
The Aviva Stadium, for me, has never been able to recapture the Lansdowne Road Roar at internationals. But to be fair the performances back in the day have not been replicated either.
I have had the fortune to experience some of the great football stadiums of Europe including the Camp Nou for a Messi masterpiece and the Allianz Arena in Munich for a World Cup semi-final between France and Portugal. But my heart lies in Anfield and the memories and emotions I have experienced there. There are bigger grounds in the EPL. There are better facilities with easier access. There are new, shinier, megastructures across the league. There may even be better atmospheres than what you get in Liverpool 4. But I defy anyone, even non-Liverpool fans, to not feel goosebumps when the Kop and stadium is in full voice of You'll Never Walk Alone.
Many love the special Munster-made memories of Thomond Park and there is no better specialised rugby ground in the country than the Limerick stadium. But for me, it was the old Lansdowne Road that felt right for a rugby game. Run-down, grey and a bit of a concrete monstrosity it was never pretty. But it oozed history. It was the oldest rugby union test venue in the world and had a unique open feel to it. The wide gap at the Havelock End allowed the weather in but also created a rolling thunder to reverberate around the ground, better known as the Lansdowne Road Roar and during a Five Nations (as it was) test it was definitely worth a try to the lads in green when in full voice. The new Stadium had to come along but like 'durty old Dublin' itself, a big bit of history was lost forever with its demolition.
I like cricket, I'm not a fan per se, but I do like watching it. In particular, I enjoy a sunny sojourn to the Dyke to watch Cork CCC perform while cooling down with a refreshing pint at the clubhouse. Its location is what makes it so special. Convenient to the city but still away from the bustle, synonymous with the entire Mardyke. The broad green swathe stands in contrast to the grand stacked Victorian edifices of Sunday's Well looking down on it from the northside. It is a glory to behold on a sunny day and one that I hope we can experience again in the not so distant future.