With the sci-fi floodlights, the huge space underneath the stands and the polished 4G astroturf pitch out the back, this is a very modern venue. It’s a slightly scaled-down version of Croke Park, with a similar press area, premium section and even more luxurious dressing rooms – with the advantage of it being the real capital instead of Dublin!
There’s a personality to the place too. The curved terraces at either end, part of the clear lineage to the old Páirc, should make this a cauldron, just like it was for many classic games in its previous incarnation.
The club game was in the spotlight here, and that was quite apt, even if it ended up being a bit lopsided, due to Valley Rovers’ dominance. They were tight at the back, Tomás O’Brien, Noel O’Donovan and David Lynch ensuring Blarney made little imprint on the scoreboard.
Colm Butler and Cormac Desmond buzzed around midfield, while up front Chris O’Leary, with 0-5 from play and a few monster frees inside his own half, and Jack Walsh, who hit 1-3, did damage. Valleys could afford the loss of Kevin Canty to an injury because there was balance to a forward line where John Cottrell and Eoin O’Reilly clipped over some tasty points.
Gary Farrell made a series of outstanding off-the-ball runs but the right pass rarely came — Valleys forcing Blarney keeper Conor Murphy into some decent saves. Farrell did get to assist Walsh for the first goal in the revamped Páirc.
O’Leary had the honour of landing the first point from play, the first free and hitting the first wide. A very busy opening salvo. You can be sure it was a satisfying outing for the Cork senior panellist, who never got going at all for the Cork U21s down in Waterford last week. This Man of the Match showing was a more accurate reflection of his ability.
Mark Coleman was the star attraction for Blarney and while he was as classy as he is for Cork in bursts, the Muskerry side didn’t really click overall. Coleman came close to nailing a trademark sideline, but instead, it was number 13 Mark Cremin who clipped the first over the bar in the new Páirc.
Blarney were 0-11 to 0-6 down at half-time and even though they were turning around with the strong breeze, they’d already been opened up for a few goal chances. The wind didn’t help their cause and it cut through the supporters — and the press area — in the upper stand as well. A hat, jacket and scarf will be a must if you’re sitting there for the latter stages of the county championships. It’s where you’d expect Valleys, under the guidance of selectors John O’Donovan and Neil O’Sullivan and coached by Mickey O’Connell, to be playing, but their quarter-final against a goal-hungry Mallow will be hard to call.
What’s easier to state is that the Cork County Board deserve the plaudits this week. Granted the upsurge in the fortunes of the hurlers has created a feelgood factor, but running out for your club in the Páirc is going to be a massive incentive for players at all grades. This is the stadium that Cork deserves.
Cork GAA has no shortage of critics but the board’s commitment to the club game is undeniable. Given the spread of clubs from Beara to Imokilly, and the dual ethos, satisfying everyone is impossible. Yet when the rest of Ireland goes into shutdown mode, Cork drive on with club action when the sun is lighting up the blue sky. It’s why last night was possible.
Blarney and Valleys aren’t powerhouses on Leeside in the same way St Finbarr’s, Glen Rovers, Blackrock, Nemo Rangers or Castlehaven are, but that didn’t take from this event.
Whether you pull on your battered Copa Mundials for the odd junior B game when the club are stuck, or have grips in all the colours of the rainbow on a set of hurleys as impressive as Anthony Nash’s, you’re part of the GAA family.
History will be made when Cork rip it up against Tipp and Kerry, but it’ll be the same in county finals from junior all the way up. And we watched a bit of history being made last night.