John Horgan: One Cork plan can help push Leeside GAA to new heights

John Horgan: One Cork plan can help push Leeside GAA to new heights

Supporters watching the action at the then newly redeveloped Páirc Uí Chaoimh when Blarney met Valley Rovers in July 2017. Picture: Cathal Noonan

IT has not been an easy ride for Páirc Uí Chaoimh following its hugely significant redevelopment which was concluded in 2017 and which featured a Premier Intermediate Hurling encounter between Blarney and Valley Rovers to mark its opening.

The stadium was out of bounds altogether for some time last year as a new pitch was laid which, thankfully, was a resounding success as we have seen in the past number of weeks.

The debt on the stadium is a major millstone around the necks of those charged with maintaining the facility which now ranks as one of the best in the country and far beyond.

That debt is around €23m, a huge figure by any standards and one that will take quite some time before it is reduced to being manageable. The sale of lands at Kilbarry will be a significant help in the process.

Of course, it’s no great surprise that the stadium went far beyond the initial budget that had been laid out. No project of that magnitude comes in under budget these days or even slightly above it because it’s a fact of life that costs spiral almost on a daily basis. The greatest example of this is, of course, the new children’s hospital in Dublin where the cost is now an astronomical figure beyond the initial figure.

Last week, the Cork County Board unveiled plans to significantly reduce the debt by bringing all the vested interests together and getting them to work together under the one umbrella.

Picture: Cathal Noonan
Picture: Cathal Noonan

One Cork is an appropriate title for the amalgamation of Cork County Board, Páirc Uí Chaoimh Stadium Board, and the independent fundraising vehicle Cairde Chorcaí. The amalgamation makes perfect sense, with everybody pulling in the same direction which can only be for the betterment of the GAA on Leeside.

Nobody envies the task before them but when everybody sings from the one hymn sheet the results are more likely to be far more positive.

The stated aim of the new unit, One Cork, is to make Cork GAA one of the most successful sporting organisations in the country, both on and off the pitch.

By investing properly in clubs, schools, and county structures, One Cork will lay the groundwork for future success at every level from Rebel Óg to inter-county.

The plan will build upon a series of strategies in key areas, namely sponsorship, commercial opportunities at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, ticket sales, and advertising.

A group of dedicated Cork GAA supporters with vast commercial experience has been working on the commercial strategy for One Cork for a number of months.

The group’s stated goal is to introduce a commercial engine that will deliver the required return to drive a vision and ambition for Cork GAA.

In terms of sponsorship, One Cork is looking to activate a number of new opportunities that will realise the true potential of a world-class stadium such as Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

This includes the naming rights for elements of ‘the Páirc’, its development as a national venue for events, and its appeal as a year-round destination.

One Cork will also look at using its existing real estate for new advertising opportunities, using a model that has worked extremely well for other sports.

One Cork will deepen links with the clubs and their communities. The goal is to ensure that every player, from the five-year-old starting out to the inter-county star, will see the benefits of the programme; a revamped draw format that will see clubs directly benefiting from improved ticket sales.

Ambitious but realistic too. Once upon a time it would have been frowned upon to add a sponsor’s name to a ground that is so synonymous with life on Leeside.

Stadiums such as the Páirc, Semple Stadium, and the Gaelic Grounds are sacred places and what they are known as is sacred too.

But the cost of maintaining them is massive on a yearly basis and every financial avenue has to be explored and subsequently opened up to help to alleviate those costs.

That’s the world we live in now and when a sponsor’s name is found for the naming rights it will be a huge step forward.

The success of the GAA in Cork is of paramount importance for the entire community; having every possible structure in place to ensure that, from grassroots level upwards, no stone will be left unturned in trying to restore more success on the field of play.

And let’s be honest, the statistics will show that on that field of play we are not where we should be, winning All-Irelands at all levels, evidenced in the recent losses to Tipperary in both codes and not having a national title at minor or U21 for years.

We have no divine right, of course, but the unveiling of the One Cork initiative will be a considerable step in putting more silverware on the trophy cabinet.

You will have a combination of some of the best business heads in the country, former players and, of course, the County Board itself all working together to focus on key areas such as coaching structures, more resources at grassroots level, and better training facilities.

This One Cork initiative has to be welcomed and while those charged with its direction have no easy task in front of them, the gains will far outweigh the losses for the GAA on the banks of the Lee.

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