Rebels’ second home

A soccer fortress turned GAA ground, once home to Cork Hibs, presently the secondary venue of the Cork County Board.

Graced in the decades past by Liverpool, Manchester United and even the Irish international team, nowadays trodden by the hurlers and footballers of the Rebel heartland.

Fair to say then that life on Boreenmanna Road has changed over the years, though the hum of activity remains ever present.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Páirc Uí Rinn — the ground’s second chapter. Its opening stretches further back the years however, a time when the plaque at the front gate read Flower Lodge.

As noted, the ground was first home to Cork Hibernians, one of the most distinguished League of Ireland teams throughout the 1960s and 70s.

Indeed, at the height of the club’s glorious spell, 1973 to be precise, the FAI Cup final involving Hibs and Shelbourne ended in a draw and the soccer chiefs at the time decided to fix the replay for Flower Lodge, presenting Hibs with the opportunity to complete the two in a row on their home turf.

In front of a heaving attendance, Carl Humphries pounced for the only goal of the contest.

The YouTube video, narrated by Jimmy Magee, captures poignantly the euphoria when the home striker thundered the ball to the top right corner of the Shels net.

“25,000 were there for the soccer match in 1973,” recalls Diarmuid O’Donovan, senior administrator of the Cork County Board.

Ten years earlier, United had played Bolton Wanderers during the ‘big freeze’ in Britain, while in 1986, Liverpool did battle with an Irish international XI, Kenny Dalglish’s men emerging 2-1 winners, Jan Molby and Kevin MacDonald the scorers.

The fixture had been scheduled for 1985 as part of the city’s 800th birthday celebrations, but was postponed as a result of Liverpool’s post-Heysel ban dictating where the club could travel in Europe.

It was during this period that the Ancient Order of Hibernians had put Flower Lodge up for sale, following the winding up of Cork Hibs.

The Cork County board showed an immediate interest, explains O’Donovan.

“There was a need for a second ground close to Páirc Uí Chaoimh. The ground was being overused, it was being used for training, for games and at the time the playing surface wasn’t particularly good.

“The Ancient Order of Hibernians were adamant that the ground be used for sporting purposes. Cork City weren’t prepared to enter a clause that it would only be prepared to use the ground for sporting purposes, whereas the Cork GAA were.”

In 1989, the Cork County Board handed over £260,000 for the keys of Flower Lodge. The money for the grounds was raised by the Michael Jackson concert of ’89, but financing the purchase was the least of their worries.

“Now the problem for Cork GAA was that they had to extend that playing surface towards the city end because obviously a GAA pitch is 140% the size of a soccer pitch. The basic structure didn’t change only that the surface was extended taking from the bank at the Cork Con end. That was cut into to make the pitch longer.”

The transformation from Flower Lodge to Páirc Uí Rinn took four years and cost in and around £1m pounds, with the red tape snipped on May 23, 1993 by then GAA President, Peter Quinn.

“It was a great occasion to open the new county grounds, marked by challenge games between Cork v Kilkenny in the hurling and Cork v Meath in the football,” said O’Donovan.

“When Páirc Uí Chaoimh was opened in ’76 it was probably the best around, but time moved on very fast and because of advances in building, it became old. A second stadium was needed.”

The erection of floodlights in 2004 heralded another chapter for the ground and, indeed, some of O’Donovan’s fondest memories have been mid-week encounters where the bright glow, emanating from all four corners, “added to the atmosphere”.

“One night in there St Nicks, my own football club, beat Erin’s Own in a replay of the County U21 football final in extra-time. For us it was a cracking encounter. I’m sure it wasn’t for Erin’s Own.

“In 2002, St Nicks won the county minor football title and I was an officer of the minor board and I got to present the trophy. The trophy is called after my late father, Donal O’Donovan, who trained the Cork football team to win the All-Ireland in 1973. It was nice to present the cup just a few years after he had passed.”


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