KIERAN SHANNON: Love it or hate it, the Páirc gave us days we’ll never forget

Páirc Uí Chaoimh

It’s hard not to get nostalgic as a Cork person in a week such as this, but it doesn’t necessarily mean getting all romantic either.

Páirc Uí Chaoimh was like so much of the GAA in the county and country: a source and place of conflict, one mass contradiction. It was both a kip and the best place to watch a game.

Its corridors, especially of power, could be cold and unwelcoming yet games played in that cauldron were as hot and as electrifying as any ever played in this country.

We could go on, so we will, with highlights and low lights of how we’ll remember the place where we shouted and paid.

1. We saw our first ever championship game there. Cork-Tipp, 1979. Anyone who remembers it will remember it for Pat O’Neill’s late wide out on the wing that cost Tipp a replay. Except, as I’d learn years later, that man passed to O’Neill when he should have shot for a score himself.

Eamon O’Shea.

2. Our first Munster final was down there too: Kerry-Cork, 1980. Jacko bombing a diagonal ball under the stand for Egan to palm down to Bomber to then throw it past Billy Morgan. All these years later we haven’t seen a move or team in such sync.

3. Does anybody know for sure after all these years whether it was The Park or De Páirc or De Park or The Páirc?

4. Justin McCarthy had a point in saying the place should have been called after a player, not an administrator.

The wrong venue in Cork was named after Christy Ring he’d maintain. And how many people today are aware Páirc Uí Rinn is named after the pride of Cloyne?

5. The jacks – and no, we’re not talking about Heffo’s Army in ’83. We mean the urinals. The smell, the queue, the wait, the hurry back to your spot. The worst was the 1997 Munster hurling final. We left the press box shortly after the half-time whistle, Clare six points up. By the time we’d visited that wall and returned to our seat Tipp were back to within a point without scoring a goal. Shows how quickly a game of hurling can change and how antiquated that tunnel and those toilets were.

6. We were there for that other seismic day in ’83: when in the morning the heavens poured down on Cork and then that afternoon Tadhg Murphy’s late goal shocked the Kingdom.

7. Seeing JBM sitting in the row in front of us for the ’87 Munster football final and thinking how the hurlers could have down with him the previous week against Tipp. Then watching Larry Tompkins hit the frees for Cork that day and realising a new star was born on Leeside.

8. Still that Munster final: the roar that greeted the PA announcing Stephen Roche had won the Tour de France, Mikey Sheehy’s wonder goal along the endline, Billy Morgan falling to the ground, Tompkins’ equalising free.

9. Michael Jackson, July 31, 1988. The first gig I was ever at. Probably still the best gig I was ever at.

10. First Michael, then Prince, Bono and Bruce. You’re talking about the musical Mount Rushmore of the 80s there – sorry, Madge – who all played in the Park at some time or other. Still not as good a lineup as English, Bonner and Fox though.

11. The few pints with the Tipp lads – not English, Bonner and Fox – in the South County in Douglas beforehand. The drop off at either the Silver Key or Cork Con, the walk down, the walk past the lads on the banjos, the jangle of coins and the jangle of nerves in anticipation on do-or-die Munster championship days down there.

12. The 1990 Munster football final, the day after Schillaci put the ball in the Irish net and a double-seeking Cork crowd in full voice, chanting ‘Olé, Olé, Olé’ and ‘Oh ah...’. That day there was more than one Paul McGrath.

13. 1996 and the Kerry crowd’s turn to do the soccer singing this time. Football’s Coming Home, they declared. It was too after Maurice Fitzgerald pointed those bombs towards the flares lighting up in the terraces.

14. County finals in October. Na Piarsaigh winning their first in 1990 in front of 30,000 stands out. And naturally Douglas winning the intermediate hurling in 2000. Magic. What will it be like when the club lands a senior?

15. County board meetings upstairs, covering them for the paper. The decency but compliance of the delegates and the grip Frank had over them. The cold draught through that tunnel while covering the strikes, with the atmosphere frostier still.

16. “If you go down to Páirc Uí Chaoimh, you’re met by the opening of a latch and someone peering out at you. It is indicative of how they conduct their business. There is no transparency.” Ger McCarthy – no, not that one – at a meeting of the clubs in Clonakilty, March, 2009. That image and culture has to be pulled down with the old stadium, surely, hopefully?

17. Clare-Tipp, the first Sunday of June in the Loughnane-Leahy years. There was nowhere else in the world you wanted to be on that day in those years.

18. Waterford ending the famine and jumping up on the wire in 2002.

19. Eoin Kelly’s rocket past Donal Óg in 2008.

It was probably the last full-house, electrifying big day the old ground would hold – until the last one it will have next Sunday.

We could go on some more. And so will it, eventually, just not as we knew it, disliked it, loved it.


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