The GAA has allayed fears that the Páirc Uí Chaoimh pitch won’t be up to scratch for the Munster SHC games in May and insisted it could yet host a number of Allianz League games.
A statement released on Monday last described the playing surface for last weekend’s league games as ‘unacceptable’ and confirmed the February 16 Cork/Clare NHL game has been switched to Páirc Uí Rinn.
Peter McKenna, the GAA’s stadium and commercial director, said it’s too early to presume that all league games scheduled for Páirc Uí Chaoimh will be moved elsewhere.
He also said there are no issues whatsoever about the stadium’s availability for the Munster SHC opener on May 12 between Cork and Tipperary.
McKenna confirmed that the problem with the pitch relates to “instability in the upper root zones” which, in practice, has led to “moving” sod.
He said this will improve, as the temperatures rise in the coming weeks and months and that the surface will be fine for May.
“Tracey [Kennedy], myself and Kevin O’Donovan spent a lot of time on Monday last thinking what would be the best way out of this,” said McKenna. “You couldn’t contemplate having players there until you get the surface far more stable. Then we need to do a pitch replacement. That’s the general consensus.
“It will be fine for May because what’s wrong with the pitch is instability in the upper root zones. It’s moving. Once the weather gets good and the grass starts to grow, the roots will actually hold it and it will perform very well and that’s what you would have seen during the summer.
“With good growth, the pitch is fine. But you need something that’s going to be good for 12 months of the year, not just for a short summer period.
“We pulled the next (league game), that was following a discussion with Kevin and Tracey and then we’ll look at it on the following Monday. People were cutting silage a couple of weeks ago in Wexford so there’s been tremendous growth in parts of the country at different times of the year, odd times of the year, so it would be too early to call a blanket ‘no’ to league games. It’s about getting, in its current construct, the grass roots to penetrate deeper than they are currently.”
Monday’s GAA statement explained that “heavy pitchside traffic, associated with the construction works for the new stadium build, had a detrimental effect on the pitch”.
McKenna explained what this actually means.
“That’s a consequence of some of the building work. You had huge cranes going up and down there lifting on the roof and other things,” he said. “That sealed off drains and fissures in the grounds, a bit like sealing a tea-bag. A lot of remedial work needs to go on that.”
He said it could be corrected.
“Oh yeah, this is a six-to eight-week job and so you need a timeline to do that, but it is correctable, absolutely.”
McKenna said that getting grass to grow in the shadow of large stands is a major problem at Croke Park, too.
“You need grass species that respond well to growing in shadow,” he said. “The grass we have here in Croke Park wouldn’t really grow well in your back garden. What grows in your back garden is meadow grass, poa annua; what we have here is a rye grass mix, so it needs to be tended to regularly and the same will be needed in Cork. Then, we look at other areas around it, but it’s a well aired area. I don’t see any problem with the [Cork] pitch, once we get in to replace it effectively.”
It’s the latest headache relating to the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh, which has experienced a significant overrun in terms of building costs.
McKenna stated last month that he expected the final bill to come in at around €110m, though this was followed by a statement from Cork chairperson Tracey Kennedy that they were working off a figure of €86m.
“Well, I don’t want to get into [the figures],” said McKenna yesterday. “The issue is not so much the figure, the issue is looking after the debt. I think everyone is moving in a positive way, so we’ll try to keep that momentum going. It will be interesting to see the report that comes back from the two directors that are looking into that, Michael O’Flynn and Tom Gray.”
Interestingly, when Páirc Uí Chaoimh is ready to be resurfaced — “later this year” according to Monday’s statement — the new turf may come from the GAA’s new turf farm in north Dublin.
“Possibly, that would be a decision for the Cork County Board and the board of the stadium, but that would be a possibility,” said McKenna.