It was all meant to be so different. The new Páirc was supposed to be a symbol of change in Cork GAA, it was meant to signal a new beginning. And, for a while last summer, you might even have been forgiven for thinking that everything just might be ok.
The sun came out, there was a good day against Clare, a thriller against Limerick, a nightmare against Kerry but everyone had a good time at Ed Sheeran and it seemed, as the summer ended, that we could all focus our attention and considerable angst solely on matters on the field for the first time this century, that we could ignore some of those nagging doubts that were hanging around at the back of our minds.
It was nice while it lasted.
Instead of wiping everything clean, the new stadium is becoming a permanent symbol of the stagnation, hubris, turmoil and neglect that has seen the GAA in Cork become a national laughing-stock.
The way the old Páirc was left rot (lest we forget the seats, toilets, porter cabins, showers, the cracks) was a neat metaphor for the decline in on-field success. Now, the new stadium represents the retrospective folly of trusting those who oversaw Cork’s decline and fall to deliver anything other than disappointment.
The pitch fiasco last weekend was just the end of a long winter of discontent. The price of entry to the county finals, the lack of a weekend pass for big weekends like in other counties, the departure of Gary Keegan from the hurling set-up, the exodus from the senior football set-up both on the field and off it, the U20 football saga; but all of these pale in comparison to the overspend on the stadium and the loss of sovereignty.
Any optimism that Cork supporters may have had on the back of the senior hurlers’ performances in 2017 and 2018 and the potential of the last few minor and U-21 teams was unceremoniously crushed as Cork became front page news. Again.
And, eighteen months on from its opening, we’ve still no idea what it all will cost, either financially or spiritually. The ability to add seems to have been lost. Or else there isn’t an abacus big enough for this set of sums on Leeside. We’re either ‘only’ €16 million over budget, or €30 million. Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb I suppose.
Then came last Sunday and the latest dose of self-flagellation. By the end of the Wexford game there was more green in the City and Blackrock Ends than there was on the field. This deterioration of the terraces was a painful reminder of what was left happen to the old Páirc, but the condition of the pitch was the most humiliating thing of all.
And once again Cork supporters went home to have their county mocked and ridiculed and once again what happened on the pitch became lost in a pointless abyss of numbing despair. Losing to Wexford and Kildare at home wasn’t even news. And once again, with Cork being Cork, everyone got a chance to stick the knives in.
This is a country that doesn’t do accountability very well, but we’d all like somebody to blame. Of course, the steering committee that was in charge of delivering the project has all but evaporated, leaving the current board with many new officers holding the baby.
They were happy to take their place on the podium with the bishops at the official opening during the 2017 county-finals, but now they’ve returned silently to the shadows. They have many questions to address, chiefly about their capacity to steer, as the project went massively over budget.
But if we keep it just to the pitch, it’s incredible to think that this was allowed to happen from the very start. The steering committee were old enough to remember that it took a very long time to get the pitch in the old Páirc right. Then, when the pitch was right, came the story of the seats and the angle-grinder. But I digress.
Why wasn’t the pitch modelled on the Croke Park system? Why has the problem just been ignored? What made anybody think that it would be any different from this time last year? Still, at least the state of the art wi-fi allowed news of the condition of the pitch to spread like wildfire on Sunday.
This century, Cork have managed a paltry three All-Ireland senior titles. All three came on the back of players downing tools and looking for a bit of modernisation. It worked for a while, but much like the aftermath of the wave of revolutions that swept across Europe in 1848, absolutism never really went away and we’ve a generation of young people who have no idea what it is like to welcome a team off the train in Mallow or Cork to see Liam or Sam come home.
The stadium was going to be the panacea for all of our ills. But now it’s becoming the root of all our problems, even the most recent human resources one. A special role was created so the special project could get the special attention it needed from Cork’s longest-serving full-time employee.
The aftermath of that particular appointment is now just another example of how myopic and beholden the GAA in Cork has become as an organisation. It should all be so different.
As it was being erected, the stadium looked quite impressive as you drove up or down the Lower Glanmire Road. Those large pylons on the north side that once stood tall and proud now seem like hulking slumped shoulders as they serve as a permanent reminder of the depressed state of affairs.
The Páirc may well have been a legacy project. And it still is, but not in the way it was intended. The legacy of the stadium project is that it was the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of Cork being able to govern themselves. Croke Park are in charge now and the legacy is laughter, anger, frustration and continued disconnection.
And that’s only going on what we know now. It’s likely that this Pandora’s Box has many more tales to tell. Who knows what other secrets lie within? But the show must go on.
The only way that things can really begin to move forward is if there’s complete honesty and transparency in relation to every aspect of the build. The truth doesn’t seem to be a lot to look for. But this is Cork.
Perhaps the change that has happened at board level gives an opportunity for Cork to finally be transparent, to bury the past. The truth, once its full horror is revealed, may have the ability to set us free.