Rugby down the Páirc - Fear Not

The sold-out Munster V South Africa rugby match in Páirc Uí Chaoimh has become a major local talking point in recent weeks.

Having fans of a ‘foreign sport’ pour into the Páirc is a bit like having visitors around to the gaf - every Cork GAA fan will want them to be impressed with The New Páirc.

Can you imagine if there were thousands of rugby fans heading for the shambles that was the old Páirc? Designed in the late Jurassic Age by dwarves, the seats in The Old Páirc were infamously more stingy on leg room than a budget airline. Anyone over six foot would always hope the seat in front of them was free so they could rest their legs on it or else face over an hour of having a chipped plastic seat in front of them cut into their shin bones.

Look at us now.

They say location is everything - coupled with its recent make-over Páirc Uí Chaoimh is the envy of the nation. And, let’s be realistic here, probably the world.

Surrounded by the new Marina Park in Ballintemple, the beautiful River Lee, the calming pedestrian Marina walk full of high earners dressed in expensive lycra, and the enchanting Atlantic Pond (one of the seven wonders of the world) there is no stadium in Ireland that comes anywhere near our own. And that’s before we talk astro pitches, conference centres, comfy seats, delicious chips, and not having to hold your breath when you’re going to the toilet.

Match cameras at GAA stadiums all over the island often show us the ugliest bits of Ireland behind terraces that confirm the good reasons you’ve avoided ever visiting them: Cavan, Tullamore, Omagh, Castlebar, Naas, Drumcondra. We get snippets of horrible multi storey car parks and bland shopping centres, greasy chip vans and car parks, apartment blocks so criminally ugly that the developer’s name is likely to come up at any ‘review’ into An Bord Pleanála.

In contrast, the stunning views from Páirc Uí Chaoimh rival those of any tourist attraction famous for its vistas:  The Eiffel Tower in Paris; Christ the Redeemer in Rio; The Water Tower in Knocka. TV cameras on the South Stand show how the stadium is complimented by the affluent climes of Montenotte rising up above it, littered with big posh gafs, millions of mature trees and fancy gardens – making us the envy of ‘Not Cork’.  

To the east and west the views down towards the city or out towards Blackrock Castle are mesmerising too. It’s pure like bringing visitors into your ‘good room’ so you can show off all your best stuff (just make sure the doors to every other room in the house where you’ve lobbed everything else are closed!).

Many dedicated Cork GAA people, including columnists in this paper, disagree with the decision to allow quare sports a day out in the Páirc. As well as reaping a load of badly needed coin to pay off the monstrous debt racked up to revamp the stadium, the match is an opportunity to show off the county’s ‘good room’ to tens of thousands who’ll be at the game as well as hundreds of thousands who’ll watch it at home.

Anyone worried about rugby winning over thousands of parents and youngsters who play hurling and football shouldn’t fret. Scratch under the surface of the glamour of the international and provincial rugby teams and you’ll find an amateur game constantly struggling to attract new players. Irish rugby, with its massive TV audience, is often described by sports journalists as Ireland’s favourite sport that nobody plays.

In Cork city in particular rugby still struggles to brush off the elitest tag and one of the two traditional ‘rugby schools’ has in recent years become an important supplier of talent to Cork underage hurling teams. It also dishes out savage beatings to big traditional names in the Harty Cup.

For some, the ‘foreign sports’ ban mindset from decades ago is hard to shake off, but pigeon-holing fans and players into rigid categories is a bit old school. There will be thousands of Corkonians at Pairc Uí Chaoimh cheering on Munster who were there for the Limerick v Cork Munster hurling championship opener in April. On social media, plenty of Cork senior hurlers and footballers post about their favourite Premier League club or an American football team they follow but it doesn’t remotely affect their commitment to the blood and bandage.

Should the odd showcase of Cork’s swanky new stadium to a national and international audience really be cause for concern? Yes, but not for the GAA. Along with worrying attendance figures at Thomond Park in Limerick, concerns over finances and parental fears about the long-term effect of head injuries and ‘collisions’, it is surely rugby that should be fretting about losing hearts and minds to the GAA and not the other way round - especially when they see and hear the Páirc in all its glory. But let’s banish the age-old grudges and embrace an occasion that puts Cork’s love of sport on the map: Munster Abú!  

Munster v South Africa Discussion Thread