Thursday 18 January 2018

Send no flowers for Pairc Ui Chaoimh's final fling

Declan O'Sullivan leaves the Páirc Ui Chaoimh dressing rooms after Kerry's victory against Cork in the Munster SFC final. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Declan O'Sullivan leaves the Páirc Ui Chaoimh dressing rooms after Kerry's victory against Cork in the Munster SFC final. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

The old ghetto is dead, let's leave it to decompose in peace. This week's fashion has been to romanticise Pairc Ui Chaoimh in the way you say kind things over the corpse of a lifelong curmudgeon.

And, so, the High Mass of a Munster final will see it to its resting place tomorrow with exaggeratedly plumed ceremony. Forgive me if I stay sitting.

Maybe I'm just prejudiced by the memory of imprisonment there with a fellow journalist and two rabid alsatians (not sure which species provided more troubling company) back in the early '90s. Even then, it had that air of an abandoned tenement with its dark caverns, leaking ceilings and broken window-panes.

To this day, I am indebted to the half-eaten burger and chips that, momentarily, distracted both dogs, facilitating a hurried retreat to the Beamish Room.

Or it could be, of course, that I'm hopelessly scarred by so many memories printed in the black corners of that famous tunnel, the whole place crowded and damp, chaotic and fulminating.

In '99, a Clare water-bottle missed my head by inches at a time when Tipp and the Banner had a relationship that all but needed UN intervention.


The Pairc is a repository of epochal memories no question and, for hurling folk, those Tipp-Clare games will sit right top of the list.

But that rivalry had independent chemistry. By the late '90s, you could have played Tipp-Clare in a church car-park and the heat off it could have sparked gorse fires 20 miles away.

The creaking old Pairc was just a prop to the story, an accidental witness.

Actually, it's hard not to think of it now in terms of a living, breathing organism, a place outside the realm of modern engineering, with its latrine-fumed gloom and a virtual hum rising off the stonework.

The dressing-rooms were famously small (Cork teams took to togging out in the gym instead), the walls between them seemingly thinner than grease paper.

Some years ago, RTE miked up referees for a TV documentary, 'Blowing The Whistle', that provided remarkable footage there of Pat McEnaney at half-time in the '99 Munster football final.

After a tempestuous opening 35 minutes, McEnaney is seen pulling hard on a cigarette whilst listening in word-perfect detail to the rather indelicate team-talk unspooling next door.

Eventually, a little waxy-faced, he gets to his feet and – turning to his officials – says starkly: "We'll need to keep a f***ing tight rein on this!"

Step upstairs in the Pairc and there was always something grandiose and delusional about the committee room with its green felt table-top and a chairman's chair like something you'd imagine Henry XIII sat on when banqueting on turkey drumsticks.

Maybe it was just me, but that room always struck as having a strangely Communist bloc feel.

And do you remember the barrier at the mouth of the tunnel? Health and safety did away with it in the end but, back then, we craned our necks out of the press rookery that hangs from the roof, gauging a team's mood by how they met that barrier.

Jink around it and all manner of aspersions would be cast upon your readiness for battle. Hop over it, like commuters jumping a subway turnstile, and the consensus from on high was you were tuned.

We saw coronations and crucifixions there. We saw the births and deaths of great teams. In Pairc Ui Chaoimh, context routinely vanished from our lives, but the games did that.

They gave the place a life and colour and even a battered elegance it had no right to.

But it was always a curse of a place to get to (especially once they stopped the boats from Silver Springs) and, in the pre-Celtic Tiger days, a Tipp match meant a desperate hardening of the traffic arteries through Mitchelstown and Fermoy.

So pray over its wilted form now if you choose and, hopefully, Cork-Limerick will blow great gusts of startled noise across the river tomorrow and all the way up Montenotte hill.

Maybe people might even be moved to pilfer souvenirs.

But let's not mistake Pairc Ui Chaoimh for anything it wasn't. It was always the shanty, always the ghetto, always someone else's joke on a gathering crowd.

Tomorrow, finally, the laughter ends. No flowers please.


Collins calls it like it is after Wexford red

Quote of the year so far surely belongs to Clare hurler Podge Collins, still coming to terms with the straight red that means he must sit out this evening's All-Ireland qualifier replay in Wexford Park.

Collins offered no defence against the charge of pulling David Redmond's face-guard, but did echo his manager's quibble about it being registered among the game's most heinous crimes.

"They brought it in for health and safety reasons, but there isn't a lot of health and safety in hurling anyway!" said Podge.

Hard to pick a hole in that conclusion.

Irish Independent

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