SATURDAY evening in Clonakilty was a great example of why more big county championship games should be played at rural venues.
Two divisional rivals clashing in that division, with a packed house on a fine evening in a knockout game – it had all the ingredients of a classic, old-style championship game, though the only pity from a neutral point of view was that it wasn’t a closer contest, with Newcestown triumphing by 4-13 to 2-8.
Apparently, county board chairman Kevin O’Donovan had to strongly make the case for the game to be played in Clon rather than Páirc Ui Rinn but thankfully he was able to sway the decision and hopefully the smooth running of things will lead to more games like these being held at suitable grounds around the county.
Obviously, Clon have a huge advantage in that there is an excellent stand and bar facilities, but it was still no small undertaking for the club and they deserve huge credit for the organisation of things.
As a venue, Páirc Uí Rinn ticks plenty of boxes but with a large capacity it means that a crowd can be lost there. While there are often double-headers scheduled there, it is rare nowadays for people to stay for both games until the championships reach the latter stages and, even then, it’s usually only the senior grades which hold sufficient attention.
A packed smaller venue always makes for a better atmosphere than the same crowd in a cavernous bowl. Obviously, Páirc Uí Chaoimh or Páirc Uí Rinn make sense for all-city ties or the double-header on Saturday where three city clubs were joined by Midleton, but they don’t have to be the only option.
Recent years have seen Páirc Uí Rinn used for all-Carbery county SFC semi-finals, but, with Clon showing itself capable of hosting an event like Saturday, it must surely be considered for any future such occasions.
The calls will also grow for it to be used for a Cork football league game or two. The fact that the crowd is restricted to just one side of the field may count against it, but it’s something worth examining, you would think, even if only for the McGrath Cup.
To give the county board credit, we were heartened to hear last week that Páirc Uí Chaoimh has regularly been used for training this year by the Cork camogie and ladies’ football teams, who will be looking to win All-Ireland titles in Croke Park over the next two Sundays.
It’s easy to take for granted how well Cork do in each code, so regularly have they been present in the latter stages of their respective competitions.
Under Paudie Murray, the camogie team have reached new levels of consistency and, while themselves and Kilkenny may have quite a keen rivalry, there is no denying that the two teams have helped to bring each other on.
Sunday’s game should be fascinating, with Kilkenny so difficult to break down and then so dangerous on the break, but Cork have shown themselves to be patient and capable of methodically working scoring opportunities, as evidenced by last year’s 0-10 to 0-9 final win.
Ann Downey has Kilkenny so hard to beat, but if anyone can beat them then it is Cork.
Meanwhile, having lost to Mayo in the semi-final last year, the football team might have been expected to have a period of transition necessitated by the turnover of players as the heroes of those wins since 2005 departed the scene but, under Ephie Fitzgerald, Cork have been just as strong this year.
An exceptional record at minor level has seen a strong flow of new stars come on stream and the experience of winning has outweighed any greenness in terms of age, with a semi-final win over Donegal showing the levels of maturity that they have already attained.
Dublin in the final will eb their toughest test yet but, as Fitzgerald said, Cork will be Dublin’s toughest test too.
While the Jackies are threatening to emulate their male counterparts and become the outstanding team in the game, Cork have been the one team that Dublin have been unable to overcome in the championship, with a series of late comebacks by the Rebels having broken capital hearts.