The Christy O'Connor column
IN so many ways, this week should have been like a festival for Cork GAA.
The city should have been preparing for a fiesta. The Cork footballers are no longer a big draw with the locals but a Munster final against Kerry would still have been the perfect way to open the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Whatever about the match, or anticipated result, the numbers would have swollen anyway with Cork supporters keen to check out the new Park, to say they were there the first time it opened.
The following week, Munster hurling final weekend, would have been the ultimate party-zone. Cork at home. The supporters itching for an opportunity to taste success again. The game against Clare won’t be easily won but it would have represented the ideal opportunity for Cork to open the new Park with an almighty bang.
That won’t happen now. The champagne has been put on hold. The tape won’t be cut until the end of the month when the All-Ireland hurling quarter-finals will be staged at the venue. Cork may be there. They will hope they won’t be, that they are already Munster champions and headed for an All-Ireland semi-final in Croke Park in mid August.
The local economy will get a well-deserved boost from the double-header but nothing like the windfall it would have accrued with two Munster finals, and two Cork teams definitely involved. According to projections made by the GAA when requesting Government funding for the project, that windfall would have provided an estimated €25 million (€12.5 million for each game).
The county board and the city will recoup a share of that at the end of the month but if Cork aren’t involved in one of those quarter-finals, it will feel empty for many of the locals; like the opening of your new pitch and clubhouse by someone from another club; you’re well entitled to go along but four other teams from up and down the road are getting the first run out on the new pitch.
That is just reality now for Cork people, who have accepted as much gracefully. When its finished, the new Park will be state of the art. It will fill Cork people with pride. Safety concerns, and getting the venue just right, is far more important than rushing the development so the locals can be the first to pop the champagne cork.
It was natural for the developers and contractors to aim for a set date for completion, for a grand opening. Yet given the scale of the operation, and the potential for time delays, it was always likely to run late and past the proposed opening date.
Even Kerry are disappointed not to be playing there for the Munster final. Eamonn Fitzmaurice said last week that there was “disappointment from everybody — players, supporters, everyone” primarily because “there was something unique about going down to the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh”.
However, Fitzmaurice did say that it was a positive that “the decision was made quickly”. It allowed both Kerry and Cork to alter their plans and begin preparations for Killarney on Sunday.
The county board delayed the decision for as long as they could but could the decision still have been taken sooner? Would it not have made more sense to announce that the deadline was not going to be met? Most of the workers employed on site by Sisk knew that the stadium would not be ready for the Munster hurling final, never mind the football final.
One construction worker privately admitted two weeks ago: “The sooner the GAA come out and announce that this is not going to happen, the better it will be for everybody concerned.”
Was that decision routinely delayed because the board weren’t sure if the footballers would beat Tipperary and qualify for the final? It certainly would have decreased local expectation if the Munster final was between Kerry and Tipperary. The hurlers have done superbly to reach the Munster final but everyone assumed in mid May that beating Tipperary and Waterford would have been a stretch too far.
It was obvious that the Munster football final was not going to take place in Páirc Uí Chaoimh but the footballers were still told on the night of their win against Tipperary that they would be able to train at the venue on the Tuesday and Thursday nights beforehand.
In one way, moving the game to Killarney has taken some of the pressure of the footballers. The hurlers didn’t show it but even some of the Cork backroom team felt that announcing that the Munster hurling final would take place in Cork put unnecessary pressure on the players before the Waterford match.
In Cork, the initial disappointment has abated in the last week. The immediate economic spin-off is a blow in the short term but having such a high-spec stadium is a huge investment for the city, with massive long term benefits. The locals may not be there to celebrate with their own team when Pairc Ui Chaoimh does open, or maybe they yet will be.
If Sunday’s Munster final is a draw, the replay could be staged in the Park on July 16. Cork weren’t given any chance either in the 2015 Munster final in Killarney but they should have won a game that ended level.
And if that happens, the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh better be ready to host the game. Because the locals are bursting for a party in their big new house.