Martin Breheny: ‘Cork’s vanity project now a serious embarrassment’

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Martin Breheny: ‘Cork’s vanity project now a serious embarrassment’

Breheny Beat


A general view of the redeveloped Páirc Uí Chaoimh before Cork’s Munster SHC clash with Clare last May. Photo: Sportsfile
A general view of the redeveloped Páirc Uí Chaoimh before Cork’s Munster SHC clash with Clare last May. Photo: Sportsfile

It started out as a shock that a project, originally priced at €70 million, is heading for a final cost of €110 million. That’s a 57 per cent differential, making it one of the most miscalculated ventures in building history.

Welcome to Páirc Uí Chaoimh, long-time home of Cork GAA, which can now put itself forward as a sanctuary for white elephants.

A sense of dismay reverberated throughout the entire GAA last week when the Association’s stadium and commercial director Peter McKenna declared that the final cost of Páirc Uí Chaoimh could be as high as €110m, which is €24m higher than the figure (€86m) quoted when works were completed last year.

The latter figure was €16m (23 per cent) higher than the €70m announced in 2014. Never mind, that’s construction inflation for you – apparently it always booms.

Of course, Páirc Uí Chaoimh has taken it to a new level, overshooting the cost runway to such a degree that we should be thankful those involved aren’t pilots.

Shock has now given way to anger that it was allowed to happen and that despite the gross miscalculations, Cork are telling the rest of the GAA not to worry their little heads about it.

They are even insisting that the total spend so far remains at €86m. That’s despite McKenna, who isn’t exactly noted for loose talk, offering a very different scenario.

So what is the wider GAA to make of it? Normally, they wouldn’t care about the financial details of a particular county but they have a vested interest in this one because Páirc Uí Chaoimh received a €20m grant from central coffers. That entitles every county to know what’s going on in Cork. Is it €86m or €110m?

Flawed

And if it’s the latter, how will the balance be paid off? The notion that the stadium can generate enough revenue from non-GAA events to sort out the problem appears fanciful, especially if it’s left to Cork to drive business.

Two years ago, Cork declared that the stadium would be virtually debt-free by opening day in July 2017. That was, at best, another example of flawed calculations.

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Either way, it doesn’t inspire confidence that they have the acumen to trade their way out of the current crisis.

Croke Park’s expertise will be used but what precisely are the implications of that? Cork County Board chairperson Tracey Kennedy insisted that the Páirc Uí Chaoimh issue won’t have a negative effect on clubs or general games activity in the county. So who will it impact on? If the final figure is €110m, the balance has to come from somewhere.

Yes, loans can be renegotiated, but ultimately the money has to be paid. Will the GAA take it under some general umbrella, in which case every county ends up paying in some form or other a Cork-created problem.

The truth about Páirc Uí Chaoimh is that it was a Cork vanity project from the start. Redeveloping a 45,000-capacity stadium, whose total capacity would only be required once every few years (and even that’s not guaranteed), made no economic sense whatsoever.

A Munster hurling final involving Cork is the only game that would attract a full house. Even then it can only happen when they play Tipperary or Limerick as Cork v Clare or Waterford finals go to neutral venues.

The GAA did their best to give Páirc Uí Chaoimh an early boost by staging the Clare v Tipperary and Waterford v Wexford hurling quarter-finals on successive days last year and while the public responded (60,000 attended), it was a one-off.

Only 10,255 attended this year’s Clare v Wexford quarter-final as supporters from both counties obviously decided that they weren’t prepared to travel to Cork when more suitable halfway houses were available.

The bottom – and expensive line – is that Páirc Uí Chaoimh was redeveloped to a scale that bordered on economic madness.

Is there any other stadium in world that was built in the certain knowledge that its full capacity would be very rarely required?

And when Cork, the GAA centrally and the Government backed the project, the least that should be expected was it that costs would be in line with original projections.

That didn’t happen, which is why anger levels will rise in other counties if, over the next five years, their more modest developments lose out financially because of the Cork problem.

A final point. With Páirc Uí Chaoimh needing all the revenue it can generate, there’s a clear logic in opening it up to other sports like, for instance, a major rugby game involving Munster when Thomond Park’s capacity isn’t enough to satisfy ticket demand.

Santa and his elves need to explain their role in Galway

Just what has gone on in Galway’s finances? County Board treasurer Michael Burke provided a disturbing picture of past activities at the annual Convention when he spoke of the game being up for those who have “done a disservice to Galway GAA and whose only interest is, or was, self-interest.”

He talked too of how ‘Santy and his elves’ might have been generous back in 2016 but “had tightened their belts now.”

And what about the comments from Paul Bellew, a member of the internal audit committee that looked into the county’s finances?

He described past culture as “rotten to the core”.

Then, there’s the case of the missing records, with acting secretary Seamus O’Grady, who is only a few months into the job, reporting that the minutes from last year’s AGM couldn’t be found in the office.

Croke Park are busy with Cork matters at present but it seems they have a lot more work to do out west too.

Thirteen-a-side game might still have a future

Carlow manager Turlough O’Brien, who is certainly no fan of the experimental football rules, believes that a better alternative would be to try out 13-a-side games.

In fairness to the five experiments, it’s too soon to form a definitive view on their impact, although early indications are that, as expected, most managers will oppose them.

Kildare boss Cian O’Neill is among the exceptions, pointing out that good players will always adapt to whatever rules they are asked to play under.

O’Brien’s view is that limiting the handpass will lead to the ball being kicked backwards more often, eventually reaching a stage where the goalkeeper will be extremely busy coping with booted passes from under-pressure colleagues.

As for his 13-a-side proposal, it would certainly be an interesting experiment at another time.

It was used in colleges’ football for seven seasons (1970-’76) before being abandoned in favour of a return to the 15-a-side game.

Irish Independent


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