Old grey bowl enjoys perfect swansong

Such is their unstinting grá for the old grey bowl, I half expected the Cork supporters to arrive with trowels and silver tins yesterday afternoon, ready and waiting at the final whistle to covet a piece of the Ballintemple venue.

You may recall the 2009 Kerrygold advertisement where, before emigrating with his pregnant wife, the husband throws a piece of soil into a tin box. “His feet will first touch Irish soil,” says the male actor. The advertisement concludes: Kerrygold — made of Ireland

The same can easily be said of this stadium. Páirc Uí Chaoimh — made of Cork.

Dropping out a pair of tickets to a friend’s mother in Ballincollig during the week, she said if they start ripping up the seats on the way out don’t be one bit surprised. “Cork folk, for all its downfalls, love that stadium,” she enthused.

And what’s not to love?

No sooner had I parked the Ford Focus in the Showgrounds when a sliotar flew past the front window. The Waterford minor panel were conducting their warm-up on the large green area in front of the dilapidated Showgrounds stand, mazing in and around the incoming flow of vehicles.

Inside the stadium and its final Munster hurling decider played out in similar fashion to its first.

August 1, 1976 on Leeside. Cork 3-15, Limerick 4-5. Limerick travelled as reigning champions, turned over, however, by a Ray Cummins-inspired Cork. At centre-forward was Jimmy Barry-Murphy and a significant role he played too. Lest we not forget also the contribution of Johnny Crowley at wing-back.

Nearly four decades later, plus ca change. Cork and Limerick again marching behind the band, Barry-Murphy and Crowley now patrolling the sideline. The outcome? Cork, again.

Fitting, says long-serving county board secretary Frank Murphy. He’ll miss this place more than most, but content its final hour played host to a Rebel victory.

“What a fantastic way to end the latest chapter in Páirc Uí Chaoimh’s storied history,” he smiles.

“It was Cork and Limerick here on our first Munster hurling final and fitting it would be the same two counties who would see it out. You know Cork have never lost a Munster hurling final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Today was a marvellous occasion. Limerick put it up to us and we responded. It is the perfect swansong.”

Down the hall, the Cork manager wouldn’t allow himself get caught up in the sentiment of it all. Fair enough.

“I don’t believe of making too much of these things, stadiums coming and going,” said Barry-Murphy.

“That doesn’t worry me at all. As far as I’m concerned we are Munster champions and that is all I am concerned with today. It is, however, a great day for the fans, a great day for the supporters.”

That much went without saying, the sea of red flowing from the Blackrock End onto the pitch upon the final whistle. Interesting too that Cork played into the

Blackrock End for the second period. Conversing with former Cork goalkeeper Martin Coleman during the week, another figure from that glorious afternoon in ’76, he said it was Cork tradition to play into the Blackrock End for the second half.

“Defending the Blackrock End was always a great occasion. We played into it in the second half on most days because we wanted to. That was the Cork end. You’d have a great support behind you there. It would settle you. To play into that end in the second half was always worth a couple of scores.”

And so it proved. The Rebel army exploding into life following the strikes of Harnedy and O’Sullivan. The latter’s goal, to borrow Barry-Murphy’s words, was “a masterclass”. Daniel Kearney supplied the delivery, O’Sullivan rising above Tom Condon to fetch possession. Swivel, roll of the wrists, goal.

O’Sullivan, sprung to devastating effect from the bench, was keen to play his role in ensuring the perfect swansong for the Páirc, keen to follow in the footsteps of Cummins, Colmean, Barry-Murphy and Crowley.

“There was a lot of pressure on us to finish it off on a high with all the history and tradition, the list of players who have graced that field before us. Today was absolutely fitting. Everything fell into place. For the likes of Jimmy and Johnny Crowley who played in the first game and to be involved now in the last game is probably an amazing experience for them.”

Páirc Uí Chaoimh — made of Cork.

Oh, and they left the seats and pitch untouched.


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