Despite Páirc Uí Chaoimh debt issue, Cork GAA is in a strong place again

Despite Páirc Uí Chaoimh debt issue, Cork GAA is in a strong place again
Former Cork boss Conor Counihan at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: Larry Cummins

THE battles go on in Cork GAA after an eventful few days that managed to explain just what it’s like when the past and the future combine.

UCC won the Fitzgibbon with a fair contribution from Cork lads on the field.

Off the pitch, in a wide-ranging discussion about his role in Cork football on the Irish Examiner GAA podcast this week, Conor Counihan spoke about the reality of the types of areas he’s trying to influence to make Cork football and Cork GAA a better and more successful (in the broadest sense of the definition) place for everyone to be involved in.

He spoke about the simple details he’s trying to change, like the mentalities of clubs who overly focus on winning U12 or U14 games to the detriment of numbers, or the level of coaching in the clubs overall which will then impact the quality of player coming through around the county which will eventually work its way into the inter-county set-ups.

He touched on the minor management and the role played by someone like Keith Ricken who’s been constantly emphasising the club’s role and the development of people who play GAA as much as the development of simply athletes or elite footballers.

This is the sort of micro-management involved in trying to bring together all the various resources that can help Cork football become something more and it was striking really how much emphasis Counihan placed on the quality of the people involved.

Ricken spoke last week about the importance of having an ideal on what Cork GAA should be.

Then the zinger, and a reminder of just how troublesome the seeking of that ideal can be, with publication of the GAA’s annual report that contained a special section on the ongoing challenge of Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

It was interesting/scary to look back this last few days at reports and interviews as the stadium project went on and see references to debt-free change to shortfalls to be funded by premium-level to sentences like we’ll see in the end how it works out.

We certainly will, with a likely debt of at least €20m, an extreme burden that’ll linger for some time.

This is a stadium that now looks likely to impose a really serious debt on Cork GAA and whose main effect will most likely be a yearly reminder of what can happen when a project loses the run of itself and loses sight of what exactly the GAA is meant to be providing.

A stadium that, how do we put this, you’d look at sometimes and think it still lacks so much that might have made it all worthwhile.

The view coming down from Temple Hill is impressive, the upper tier does give a serious vantage point over the pitch, we’ve been out on the 4G on underage blitz days and it’s felt great to be part of something bigger and that all-weather has gotten fair use from various schools/regional squads already.

But there was 1,600 or so in the Páirc on a wild and rotten Sunday afternoon last weekend and the Cork footballers provided as much entertainment as the conditions allowed but the surroundings hardly made things any more glamorous than the reality of Division 3 football.

Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Less than 10,000 were at the hurling game with Tipp a few weeks before and it’s fair to say any enjoyment factor was brought by the intensity of the game and the team more than the stadium experience.

It’ll be more welcoming in summer for sure, but then the crowd at last year’s Munster final was fairly embarrassingly low – it’ll be higher this year you’d imagine but the reality of large-scale sporting events here that will come close to justifying the outlay is that they don’t come along all that often.

Cork already has complex enough issues with the availability of venues for concerts/gigs without the stadium needing them for financial stability.

Everyone knew the Páirc needed an upgrade (a kip was one word used) but it’s just been an awful lot of expense and hassle for the amount of use/ value when there are plenty of ways that would benefit a lot more people for this kind of cash.

Think of how many club developments could have been helped around the county, how many coaches could have been put on the ground around schools and regions, the sort of local programmes that might have been helped in communities, you know, things that might have made an actual difference.

What happens next is unclear, or at least its impact won’t be fully known for some time.

There are funding plans in the background on rights and commercial deals but it’s impossible to think servicing a debt of this size won’t make a difference for Cork. Firstly, it puts a strain on the finances necessary to keep up with the kind of high-performance demands to compete (and Cork are already playing catch-up) at inter-county level, especially when losses of half a million euro were made in Cork GAA last year.

It’s hard to see enough resources being located for the sort of people or facilities identified as vital for the workings of five-year plans, both from management and day-to-day coaching around the county. Potential link-ups and developments with other groups may be lost or postponed and it all adds to the perception of going too far with stadium redevelopment and the reality that Cork is fundamentally broke. This isn’t a great starting point on negotiations for money.

It’s just another bad-news story for Cork GAA as well and even though it’s a legacy issue from essentially a different board, these sort of failings tend to get lumped together over time.

There have been recent progressions in club structures, in appointments of management/coaches right through the ages, in creating an idea of what Cork GAA should be about and there was a feelgood of the football wins and a sense that progress was coming.

Conor Counihan talks of the current plans of building a culture for Cork football but it seems there was too much focus in the past on the importance of building a stadium.

There’s an ongoing discussion in sport about financial doping, how money makes the big difference in the end between the haves and have-nots.

It might be more of a gamechanger in pro sports but Cork GAA will feel just how disorienting the lack of funds can be.

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