There was an air of unreality about the whole day. Maybe it was the lack of complaint. There’s nothing normal or natural about it, hearing thousands of people amble about admiring things, especially in Cork.
It was a day intercepted by civility and politeness. Its sting drawn.
Until the Páirc coughed out its last customer, and they’d started to scrub it new again, not a soul stepped up to give out.
Brilliant. Magnificent. The visitors paid their respects.
The locals, for one day anyway pride drowning their natural urge to quibble, were prepared to go further.
Ronan McCarthy wrote, the other day, of the view from the skew bridge in Tivoli, the power that first glimpse of the place held for a young boy, the ambition it stirred.
They have nailed it, with those white cantilevers atop the new South Stand. And until they tear it down for some class of space saucer in 40 years, small boys strolling down from Blackrock will dream big when they first loom large over the neighbouring houses.
Retracing those steps after, there was no dissent. The views were great. The stewards had encountered no bother, nor the guards. Everyone stayed healthy, the St John’s Ambulance man reported.
The radio boys had found the whole thing perplexingly straightforward. Not a hitch. The Waterford man with RTÉ spoke with no small hint of wonder at how friendly and cooperative everyone was, as though he’d seen other sides of that coin, maybe even here.
Donal O’Grady confirmed all had gone smoothly in the television bubble too. And the press lads had got lanyards. How fancy.
Even Bubbles was nearly diplomatic. He wasn’t quite calling it the best pitch in Ireland. But for the day that was in it, he’d go easy. “It wasn’t too bad.”
Same as the traffic, most accepted. Grand, like the hotdogs.
It’s not Shangri-La. A tenner for a hotdog and Heino. And that’s the deal. They haven’t solved the inevitability of a snaking queue for the women’s toilets.
And one Tipp lady felt something personal had been lost. Ever since she first travelled down, aged seven, for some kind of international Brownies convention — a Girl Guide’s World Cup — she had carried the authentic essence of the old bowl in her nostrils: an overwhelming stench of piss.
It was gone. And she was prepared to let it go.
Landing in first, Tony Considine was there, admiring it, like everyone else. But remembering too, days like Clare v Tipp in ‘97, standing out there at the centre of the hurling world, the heat down on his back like he’d never imagined. From the sun and the vitriol.
He knew it wouldn’t be like that, that it might never get that hot again. We wondered could you get too comfortable in these surroundings, would you stretch the legs and demand entertainment, the fear of thrombosis lifted.
The second of Aaron Cunningham’s first half salvo at least confirmed the place can hold a roar.
It can hold a groan too. There’s still nothing that rumbles a hurling crowd like a misplaced handpass. The rage at a botched puckout comes out more of a hiss.
Those small collapses in civility aside, it still felt unreal. Rather than unrale, in the Tipp sense. An opening night at the theatre vibe.
The green sward was unsullied by superfluous 45-yard lines. Maybe that’s what coaxed defiance out of the footballers up in Limerick, the Páirc decked out as a home of hurling.
Maybe it’s what caused the Clare lads to lose their bearings, and fire wide after wide.
Clare had raced through Tipp early on like they were tracing the arrows on an O’Grady tactics graphic from Saturday’s Examiner.
Breaking the lines, if you allow terminology from an uglier code, which we don’t. A flooding you couldn’t lay entirely at the door of Tipp’s persecuted full-back line, though the water lapped around their ankles.
But the wides did more than anything to restore an ordered calm.
Had Bonner Maher matched his burrowing instincts with better timing of release, maybe a few Tipp goals would have afforded us more time to compile a snag list on the construction.
The Tipp McGraths took over after the break. Henry Shefflin has talked of watching the brothers and being able to picture them pucking together in their back garden. When John tossed to Noel, who casually drilled one falling back, the Páirc was a lawn in Loughmore.
Tony Kelly had been in and out but his run and score started a rally that threatened to give this opening night a murder mystery.
How could Tipp lose this?
That was the script until stage direction or intuition led Pádraic Maher over onto stand-in turned leading man Peter Duggan.
Maher plucked one from above the cantilevers and namesake Brendan drilled the free from back around the Marquee.
Home and hosed, Michael Ryan was civil and polite about the stadium. “A credit to Cork.”
Though he echoed a theme repeated often by visiting fans, something you could see them getting tired of, fairly lively, the Cork boys.
Never quite floats their boat, on Leeside, the suggestion the place is nearly as good as Dublin.
Luckily, Bubbles, a man who knows the place well, was on hand for a tribute everyone can echo.
“It’s great to be back in Cork.”
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