Hard sells and hard hats at Páirc Uí Chaoimh

They had hard hats and soft figures at the construction site that will become the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh, but the person who will juggle the roster for use of only two pitches may need the hardest hat of all.

Hard sells and hard hats at Páirc Uí Chaoimh

Not to mention a flak jacket.

The appointment of a stadium manager is surely the most pressing item in the steering committee’s stacked in-tray. It is fundamental in ensuring this bright new dawn for Cork GAA isn’t hobbled by a lack of grass for their teams. Only one thing ensues: Tension.

November is the quietest time of the GAA calendar, but the county’s footballers in Fermoy and the hurlers in Cork IT are already building for 2017, not to mention the U21 footballers. It’s easy to see how a tightly-managed roster for the pitches in Páirc Ui Chaoimh will be essential.

The extra six acres for the redeveloped €80m stadium afforded the planners extra elbow room and breathing space, but only one all-weather area outside the stadium pitch. Given the number of Cork inter-county teams (at least 10), and the pledge to facilitate local and school games, the professional management of the facilities must be just that.

The ground level of the revived old ground will be exclusively for players. Team buses will drive in under the three-tiered south stand and deposit squads into one of four dressing rooms where they will prepare in one of two warm-up areas and get strapped in one of two physio rooms.

Those who’ve played for the county were consulted at the beginning of the design process, stated Bob Ryan, the former chairman who is heading up the steering committee and Frank Murphy confirmed Cork GAA had visited the Aviva Stadium Thomond Park, Croke Park, Ravenhill, Stamford Bridge, and Twickenham before settling on a final plan.

Plunge pools seem an optional extra that won’t be included but player facilities won’t be bettered anywhere on the island, believes Ryan.

“I say that without fear of contradiction – the gymnasium, the treatment room, the general standard of finish will be without compare.” Under beautifully-phrased health and safety guidelines, there will be separate tunnel areas too for opposing teams to avoid unnecessary pre-match ruts and bust-ups. The hard sell of 6,500 10-year tickets commenced last night at a city hotel, but as Munster Rugby has found in recent seasons, it’s hard to shift folk from their sofas when the team’s not doing well.

Giving the county’s players the best chance of success – and the best facilities to prepare – is as much a cornerstone as the 33,000 tonnes of concrete and 5,000 tonnes of steel reinforcement that will keep this edifice in place.

Putting Cork back in a challenging position is the hard part. The easy bit is separating supporters from their hard-earned. The financial model is not without its flaws (10inter-county games a year?), but it’s pitched right: At actual GAA people.

Cork eschewed the idea of corporate boxes on many grounds – logistical and administrative among them – but the preference for a premium area of around 2,000 seats in the south stand is primarily because they don’t need to piss off their constituents.

Said Bob Ryan: “We felt (corporate boxes) didn’t fit the model of Páirc Ui Chaoimh. Our motto is ‘Where legends are born, it’s a GAA stadium and honestly I believe corporate boxes probably aren’t part of our psyche.”

Added John Mullins, who is heading up the stadium’s business effort: “The beauty of Premium level is you get a community of business people networking in the one spot. An ability mingle. We have a limited premium section, nine rows, 2,000 tickets. Frankly, if we sell all of those, and can get a naming rights agreement, this stadium will start its life debt free - and not many stadiums do that.”

Former GAA president, Christy Cooney said they had discussed the corporate box model with Croke Park and decided “it wasn’t the right thing to do. We wanted to be mindful of the affordability factor.” There’s another element which Mullins – a former state body chief executive himself - touched on.

The optics.

“As someone who’s been photographed in a corporate box in middle of the recession, it wasn’t the best headline – business people are quite sensitive about this matter and that has impacted on the attractiveness of corporate boxes.

“This is about ordinary GAA people too who want to have premium tickets. AIB and Bank of Ireland say they will work with patrons on this, finance the tickets over five years. It helps make it affordable for ordinary GAA supporters to get a slice of the action.“

There are five boxes to tick on stadium redevelopment. Construction, parking, facilities in the ground, access to the stadium, and footfall.

On the money side, they’re €16m short of the required €80m price tag. There’ll be no parking (just as there isn’t around most major European stadia), and the construction is halfway there. Next week, if the wind isn’t blowing, the construction team will begin lifting the roof of the south stand into place.

It will be an enormous if delicate feat of engineering, a 750 tonne crane lifting five separate 75 tonne trusses into position. That work may take three or four days alone.

With that roof on and a lot of glass already installed, the fear of an arctic winter hampering progress is already receding. The builders plan to hand over the keys on June 18 next in time for the Munster football final two weeks later. Given Frank Murphy’s persuasive ways, it might host the provincial hurling decider a week later.

And they’ll be sell-outs. Those are the Broadway days of summer with bunting and back-slapping and bravehearts.

Whether Cork GAA has punted its future wisely won’t be truly evident until the county team managers come calling next autumn for pitch-time to the man (or woman) in the hard hat.

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