Saturday 20 December 2014

Logic doesn't apply in redeveloping a ground struggling to pull fans

Published 15/05/2014 | 02:30

Last year's Munster Senior Club Hurling Championship, Semi-Final, between Midleton, Cork and Sixmilebridge, Clare was played at Páirc Ui Chaoimh, Cork.
Last year's Munster Senior Club Hurling Championship Semi-Final, between Midleton, Cork and Sixmilebridge, Clare was played at Páirc Ui Chaoimh, Cork.

During the last five years, Pairc Ui Chaoimh hosted six games which had the potential to test its 43,000 capacity.

Few of them came close to filling the stadium, but at least the possibility existed. Pairc Ui Chaoimh's large capacity is only required for Cork's football championship clashes with Kerry, for the hurlers' meetings with Tipperary and Limerick and for occasional Munster hurling finals not involving Cork.

Since Cork and Kerry alternate between Pairc Ui Chaoimh and Killarney, they each host a game every second year, unless a replay arises. It means that, on average between hurling and football, Pairc Ui Chaoimh hosts games that require a large capacity twice a year.

Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney, has an even lower demand, relying on the visit of Cork footballers to come anywhere close to testing its capacity. Without draws, that happens once every two years. The Gaelic Grounds in Limerick are also way over required capacity, except on rare occasions.

None of this attracted much attention until such time as Pairc Ui Chaoimh became dilapidated. Cork responded by drawing up ambitious plans for a redevelopment programme, featuring a 45,000 stadium and a Centre of Excellence at a cost of €70m.

It's a massive outlay, but, happily, the Government has agreed to contribute €30m. That's quite a boost for the Cork County Board and the GAA, in general, even if leaves another €40m to be found.

The project will provide 400 jobs during the construction phase and according to Agriculture Minister, Simon Coveney, the new stadium will provide "top-class facilities for all those involved in Cork GAA, while ensuring that Pairc Ui Chaoimh becomes a premium, modern sports venue."

How nice for a Cork politician to be able to trumpet such largesse for his home patch in the run-up to local and European elections.

The question has to be asked: why build a 45,000-seater stadium when it's required for GAA events on only a few occasions every year? The GAA has far too many grounds with capacities that are rarely tested, but at least they are legacies of the past.

Just because bad decisions were made then, doesn't make it prudent to continue down the same road now. The GAA is well entitled to a €30m Government grant for various projects, but how can it make sense to pour so much into a massive redevelopment that's not needed? And couldn't the remaining €40m be spent more wisely, too?

Cork should not take criticism of their pet project personally. This is about broader GAA stadium planning and the absurdity of having four grounds in Munster, each with a capacity of more than 40,000.

If the decision to redevelop Pairc Ui Chaoimh as a 45,000 stadium at a cost of €70m were stress-tested for logic, it would snap instantly.

But then logic doesn't apply since there was never the remotest chance that Cork wouldn't press ahead.

Now, the Government is to chip in with €30m, funds that GAA clubs would love to acquire as they struggle to run facilities in use every day of the week, as opposed to a few times a year.

Irish Independent

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