Last week, I joined the thousands who headed to Páirc Uí Chaoimh for the first game since its redevelopment, all curious to see what the famous venue now looked like, writes Valerie Mulcahy.
I was not left disappointed by the final result. It is a superb facility both on and off the pitch and my hope now is that Cork’s female GAA stars will soon get a chance to play their games here in the near future.
As half-time approached in the Premier IHC game between Valley Rovers and Blarney I noticed the youngsters gathering for the interval matches featuring U8 players from both clubs.
I am sure that the experience of playing in Páirc Uí Chaoimh made them feel like giants, and further fed their hunger to become a local hero, to play for their club’s adult team or for Cork, so that they could relive the experience of being part of something great.
Much like those fortunate young players, I was privileged to have played there. I captained my primary school team to Sciath Na Scoil glory. I even got to use the dressing-room! That day definitely had an impact on me.
I vividly remember walking across the supporters tunnel, directly outside of the door of the dressing room and out through the big gates before being allowed access onto the sacred pitch.
Such was the significance of that occasion that I rate that win as one of my favourite sporting moments. That Sciath na Scoil medal sits among my All Ireland medals and is held in the same regard. Maybe in part, the venue had a lot to do with it. Maybe I also wanted the importance of these games – the big occasions - to reflect the hype, importance and weight that I had attached to them.
Little did I know that I would go on to play in the biggest stadium of all - 10 times - but would never get to lace up my boots again in Páirc Uí Chaoimh for a senior game of my own.
Croke Park feels more like home to me and it would be of enormous disappointment if our next generation of players in Cork aren’t strangers in their own stadium.
This may appear presumptuous or entitled to some, but I feel that we earned a right to be valued within our home stadium. We have given the same to our county and it would be nice to share in the benefits. Given the success we had as a team, it would have been nice to play in the best pitch Cork had to offer.
I am humbled to say that on one of the walls of the old stadium was a dedication to All Ireland winning Cork teams. It was decorated with photographs of each and every All Ireland Ladies Football winning team and management from over the years. I think it was the only wall in Cork to have the whole collection of such images together.
I hope the new stadium not only dedicates a wall to display those photographs - and share the complete history of Cork football - but will open the gates up to the teams that are working so hard for a place on that wall.
I understand that there are financial implications and logistics to take into account when opening up the grounds and it requires collaboration and compromise.
And although the financial results would not reflect the enormity of the gesture it would have hugely positive knock on impact for the women’s game. It would display, on the greatest scale, the respect that I know does exist for the female Cork inter-county players.
I’m sure that the venue would also draw more support to the game - much like what happened on the opening night with over 10,000 in attendance. The fact that the turf can hold more games and doesn’t require the same recovery time surely aids the chances of the grounds being opened up to all our senior intercounty teams and not just the male ones.
Let’s embrace the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh and see it as the start of a new era that represents the times we live in - not simply with the state of the art facilities but with women being respected and supported and facilitated like they deserve.
These gestures are crucial to back up words of respect and integration used so often when referring to all four codes in the broader GAA community. Id like girls and women to get more excited about going to Páirc Uí Chaoimh to watch their local, home grown heroes than say the likes of Ed Sheeran next summer.
The senior ladies football club county final could be a starting point for this year.
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