Sport GAA

Tuesday 16 July 2019

Colm Keys: 'Páirc strife sums up Cork's embarrassing fall from grace'


Ben McCormack of Kildare in possession as the playing surface of Páirc Uí Chaiomh can’t hide an uncomfortable truth. Photo: Eoin Noonan/Sportsfile.
Ben McCormack of Kildare in possession as the playing surface of Páirc Uí Chaiomh can’t hide an uncomfortable truth. Photo: Eoin Noonan/Sportsfile.
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

In the rush to condemn the playing surface in Páirc U Chaoimh as a hazard, a waste of money and an eyesore that even the most weathered horse racing track would not compare to after Sunday's double bill, it's worth remembering that the 'new' Croke Park had its own growing pains.

These days we see, for the most part, a pristine surface that attracts precious few complaints unless it's the aftermath of a concert where a six or seven-day turnaround for a relaid area at the Hill 16 end has clearly needed more time.

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Jim Gavin has raised this over the last few summers, most notably in 2017 after Coldplay's July performance when he suggested players had been slipping in that part of the field.

But Croke Park will generally get the thumbs up from those who grace it thanks to the care and detail that the team who oversee it apply.

But it wasn't always that way. For the first few years, a myriad of problems surfaced and stud selection was a real lottery.

Free-takers who preferred taking their kicks off the ground complained that they were unable to get a toe underneath the ball and despaired the run-up. Moulded studs led to slippage on a hard surface but those who preferred 'six-studs' for better traction complained of blisters. On wet days the surface could play like an ice rink.

At one stage the corner where the Cusack and Davin Stands converge was holding water because of algae growth, triggered by the polyurethane yarn woven into the pitch, but this was eventually sorted out.

Over time almost all of the problems have been worked out with a new pitch base really advancing the change.

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The point is that new stadia especially will always have such problems. Last October, Wembley Stadium - which has had ongoing problems and - could not cope with an American football game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Jacksonville Jaguars and a Premier League clash between tenants Spurs and Manchester City within 24 hours of each other. The outcome made for difficult playing conditions and unpalatable viewing.

In that sense, Páirc Uí Chaoimh is in good company. A GAA statement yesterday issued on behalf of the Cork Count Board - Croke Park has taken over the operation of the stadium - acknowledged the "unacceptable" condition of the pitch, advising that "the heavy pitch-side traffic, associated with the construction works for the new stadium build, has had a detrimental effect".

But the images from Sunday's games come against the backdrop of a stadium for which the debt is projected to spiral far beyond projections and even, inadvertently, triggered one of the biggest controversies for the GAA last year with the Liam Miller benefit match that was still reverberating last week with the publication of the director-general Tom Ryan's first annual report to Congress.

Brand Páirc Uí Chaoimh is in a difficult spot right now and has become the emblem for a troubling period for Cork GAA in general.

The divots which surfaced early on one side became craters as the afternoon progressed, leaving a dangerous interface where a pivoting foot could easily sink too deep.

Technically and visually the games had to suffer and at a time when a price increase is being introduced, even more comfortable surroundings can't disguise that the asking price at the turnstiles can't be justified when the most important component just isn't right.

It was the right decision yesterday to suspend activity at the ground until further notice, fixing Cork's next home match with Clare for Páirc Uí Rinn (great surface) and promising a review prior to other matches. Cork hurlers' home league match with Tipperary is also in jeopardy.

Perhaps the best course of action would be to sit the 'Páirc' out at this time of year altogether until it can properly accommodate league games. Clearly, the pre-season remedial work which Croke Park stadium director Peter McKenna warned in December might have started too late hasn't worked and a full relay later in the year is now the only solution.

For the sake of a few fixtures between now and the end of March that can be comfortably accommodated a few hundred metres up the road that hit, embarrassing as it may be, should be taken.

Yesterday's statement did suggest that conditions will improve quickly and "dramatically" and they will - as there was no issue with the summer hosting of Cork's Munster championship matches or indeed the All-Ireland quarter-final between Wexford and Clare.

The new Páirc Uí Chaoimh has already suffered enough reputational damage, from the debt to the failure to attract a crowd for that All-Ireland quarter-final last year. Riding out this storm isn't going to make it any worse.

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