Monday 16 September 2019

Colm O'Rourke: 'We'll all pay the price for Cork's Taj Mahal'


A general view of Pairc Ui Chaoimh. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
A general view of Pairc Ui Chaoimh. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

It's hard to end the year on a bum note, but necessary all the same.

It's not in keeping with the season of goodwill either, but I find it remarkable that there has been so little comment about Cork County Board's overspend on  Páirc Uí Chaoimh, by something in the region of €25m. Has the country been anaesthetised against building projects which miss their budget targets, as if it is something which we should expect and not get exercised by?

The whole of the GAA world - which stretches from Dublin to New York and San Francisco to Sydney - is impacted by this farce. Where do people think the money is going to come from?

If Cork County Board have to be baled out to this extent by Croke Park it means less money in the kitty for every other club and county looking for grants. There are many in the GAA family who are much more deserving of the money than Páirc Uí Chaoimh. This great pink elephant is a monument to hubris, ego and vanity and has already drained the GAA of a huge amount of money. So if your club or county are turned down for a grant or have it sliced into a smaller sum, then you can say thanks to Cork.

This is not being wise after the event. From the very beginning, even well before any work commenced, I said that I considered this project was way above what was needed in terms of capacity, the cost was far too high and the location of the pitch meant that it had serious accesibility issues. Still the cranes rolled in and nobody was willing to take on Cork and tell them bluntly that the emperor had no clothes.

Belatedly Peter McKenna, stadium director in Croke Park, has entered the fray. If he had been in from the start there would have been no delusions of grandeur. Now the money he has carefully accumulated from concerts and conferences in Croke Park will go, at least in part, to finance this monument rather than the €50,000 to €100,000 to clubs who need it badly for an extra pitch for underage players. McKenna spelled it out in plain language. Thankfully he was undiplomatic. The Páirc Uí Chaoimh development is a shambles with nobody in charge.

Exegi monumentum aere perennius as the Romans might say - I have raised a monument more lasting than bronze. If that is the Cork view then they should realise there is also dear gold. Peter McKenna now has to sort out the mess. It would be interesting to hear the answers to questions like: Who was in charge of the oversight? Were the original figures totted up on the back of a cigarette box? Who authorised such spending? Why has nobody been held to account?

The diplomatic wing of the GAA was wheeled out last week to try to put a spin on this - instead of saying that Páirc Uí Chaoimh would bankrupt the GAA if it was a company. And nobody takes the blame. The Cork view was obviously 'build it and they will come'. Of course they will, once every few years, and there will be seats in the stand that will have a bum on them once a decade.

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There is no English Premier League club that would even consider building on this scale with the promise of a full house every few years - if they were lucky.

So massive money went into a stadium that was going to be very rarely needed. Páirc Uí Rinn is well capable of holding almost every League match, and when was the last time that Cork had 40,000 at a game? Certainly the hurlers could attract that number for a very occasional big match, but a stadium holding 25,000 spectators would be more than adequate. One big central ground in Munster should be the objective and the rest of the money should be going into games development rather than a bottomless pit of sand and concrete.

If Cork County Board had said they wanted €20m to develop a complete training and games establishment where every team in the county of all ages, both men and women, could train, then I would have been the first to say that it was money well spent. Who could argue against an up-to-date gymnasium facility, floodlit grass and all-weather pitches, high-quality dressing rooms and canteen facilities? That is what Cork needs for ladies' football and camogie and the same for men. Of all ages. You could buy land and build some complex for €20m, the same amount extra which the GAA at central level now has to find for the Cork equivalent of the Taj Mahal - good to look at but used very little.

Instead of looking after their biggest resource - young players - Cork ploughed on in a sea of self-delusion. It is unfortunate that they are now left with a ground they cannot fill, in a place people find hard to get to, with a surface that is not up to scratch. It is doubly unfortunate that everyone else has to pay for it and the waiting time for smaller projects in many county and club grounds will get longer.

And of course nobody is to blame. This is a disgrace of massive proportions. A happy Christmas to all.

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