It wasn’t just one of the deals of the century for Cork GAA — those of a soccer persuasion believed the 1989 purchase by Cork County Board of the old Flower Lodge was also the steal of the century.
Only now, some 35 years later, have the full details emerged of how Cork GAA pulled off one of the great coups by purchasing what is now Páirc Ui Rinn from the Ancient Order of Hibernian for around £240,000 — despite Cork City FC appearing certainties to take ownership of a stadium steeped in local football history.
In a rare interview, published in tomorrow’s Irish Examiner, Cork GAA secretary Frank Murphy tells how Cork GAA lodged a pair of secret bids through firms of solicitors to ensure the vendors were unaware of their identity.
And once they had secured the purchase, how Páirc Uí Chaoimh groundsman Tommy Lynch was dispatched at 8.25pm on a Tuesday night — five minutes before the announcement at a County Board meeting — to alert gobsmacked AOH officers that the GAA were the new owners of Flower Lodge.
“It was undoubtedly one of the best pieces of business we have done,” Mr Murphy agreed this week. “When it came on the market, it was on the basis that preference would be given to its retention for sport — but it was open for sport or redevelopment.
“We didn’t go directly or first hand, it was all done through legal representatives. We actually made two bids — one on the basis of retention for sport, and one without such a guarantee. We weren’t sure what direction the vendors would take it,” the veteran administrator revealed.
“It wasn’t obvious to the AOH that it was the one entity making the two offers. One was lower, the other higher — the latter on the basis of no undertaking for the retention for sport. And it was the lower one was accepted.
“Our supposition at the time was they thought it was a soccer bid — because there was an attempt made at the time to find out who the bidders were. We had three sets of solicitors involved in total,” said Mr Murphy.
So there was a fear that they may not want to sell to the GAA?
“That’s true,” he replied.
Things moved quickly once the bid was accepted by the AOH, which was slow to sell to Cork City on the basis that there was no guarantee Flower Lodge would be retained exclusively for sport.
“We had a meeting of the executive here on the Tuesday night and they were briefed on the decision. There was a board meeting at 8.30pm so before we informed them the property had been bought, we sent our groundsman, Tommy Lynch, with a letter to the secretary of the AOH to inform them that we were the new owners of Flower Lodge. And that was the first intimation they had who the new owners were.”
Mr Murphy’s recollection of Cork City FC’s interest was their difficulty in raising the capital, but Cork GAA had an ace in that regard, having cleared the punishing debt resulting from the redevelopment of Páirc Ui Chaoimh a decade earlier.
“The Michael Jackson concerts enabled us to buy Flower Lodge without bank borrowing. That was huge,” Mr Murphy explained. “Those concerts made a huge difference, to be able to buy Flower Lodge without affecting the promotions of the games.”
- Full interview with Frank Murphy in tomorrow’s Weekend Sport section
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