Saturday 18 January 2020

Vincent Hogan: Pairc a grimy, defiant relic of poorer but happier days

Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

If you are old enough to remember when the drive from Dublin to Cork was motoring's equivalent of a slow grind up the Matterhorn, you will marvel at the new motorway. It has all but turned the journey into an airport shuttle ride.

Time was, you wouldn't attempt it without provisions for a week and a few extra jerrycans of petrol. The journey was so arduous, Michael Palin would have bailed out before getting through Monasterevin.

Well, yesterday, we completed it in about the time it takes to do the vote in Eurovision.

It was phenomenal. One minute, you're slipping out through Newlands Cross, the next dipping down the hill to Dunkettle interchange. And it feels like you've only been out long enough to buy a newspaper.

Everything is getting quicker now, everywhere coming closer. Where once information came to us in a trickle, we now have broadband and Facebook and Dan Boyle. You can find out things about yourself almost before they happen. You can get live pictures of your street on Google Earth. You can drive just about anywhere in pretty much the time it takes to do a crossword.

It feels like the country has been tossed into a spin dryer and come out half its original size. Which, of course, is making life a breeze.

So, why do so many of us look like we've got sunburn behind the eyes?

Everyone's got a gripe about something. The FAI hasn't had anything nice said about it since the late Dr Tony O'Neill was at the console. The IRFU is about as popular in the west as Anglo Irish for having the temerity to question Connacht's professional future.

hidden beauty

The GAA is getting it in the ear right now for ticket-prices and handpasses and a Championship structure that has been in place since the brontosaurus roamed our land.

And politics? You murder yourself socially by even introducing it in conversation.

It seems the dopamine rush of making haste in an increasingly efficient world is just leaving us all looking gloomy as a pack of basset hounds.

And that's the odd thing about Pairc Ui Chaoimh. Maybe its hidden beauty is that it stops the mollycoddling and jolts us back to our past. It's a grimy, defiant relic of hard-pressed times and spartan housekeeping. GAA stadia, generally, now boast high levels of sophistication. I was recently given a tour of the new stand in Tullamore and it was like strolling around a nice hotel.

But, down by the marina, the Pairc sits stark as an old silo, tired, crumbling and, essentially, unchanged from the bowl that first opened its doors 34 years ago. It has always struck me as the stadium equivalent of a self-assemble piece of furniture bought in IKEA and put together after a night on the tiles.

The tunnel is a claustrophobic nightmare, the dressing-rooms are tiny and those of us in need of the press box have to climb so high you half expect blood to come spurting out your ears.

I understand there are plans to knock the place down and build anew, but then, in the current climate, engineers' offices are awash with drawings of nice buildings that won't ever leave the page. So, best not to hold your breath.

Cork's grotty, downbeat GAA headquarters will probably be with us for the foreseeable future and, when you think about it, maybe that's not an altogether bad thing. Because there are few more visceral experiences left in Irish sport than that of a Munster Hurling Championship game in Pairc Ui Chaoimh.

Yesterday, the sky was mucky and you could see blotches of empty seats all over the stadium. Yet, as Cork and Tipperary paraded before throw-in, the noise lifting up the hill to Montenotte could have cracked double-glazed windows. The sense of pilgrimage was palpable. It felt like hurling's Medjugorje.

And there, hanging from the roof of the place in a primitive wooden box, you could believe that the Celtic Tiger never as much as dipped its toes in the place. Probably, I imagine, because it didn't.

You'll see a lot of dramatic-looking stadia on TV through the coming weeks, because World Cups are as much about architectural vanity as they are about losing to Brazil. The entire production can sometimes seem like one great, extravagant hologram.

But, yesterday felt like the first proper day of Championship and a good part of that feeling probably came from the ghosts in the old pit.

Sometimes, maybe, progress picks our pockets with invisible fingers. Last night, we cruised back to Dublin on a road as straight as a runway. In the old days, we might have dipped our heads in for a closing-time pint in Urlingford. But we bypassed it without even noticing now.

Hurrying for no other reason than the simple fact that we could.

Irish Independent

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