Return to ‘De Park’

Maurice Shanahan has done more than enough to earn a starting berth this Sunday.  								| Photo: Noel Browne

Maurice Shanahan has done more than enough to earn a starting berth this Sunday. | Photo: Noel Browne

By Brian Flannery
This weekend sees the long awaited reopening of Páirc Uí Chaoimh for the All-Ireland Hurling Quarter-Finals. Tipperary and Clare are first up this Saturday, with the South East derby reserved for top billing on Sunday.
There is no doubt that the old relic of a stadium was well past its sell by date but I will always retain a fondness for the ‘Old lady’. Many great days and great games were witnessed at the Rebel headquarters.
I was involved in Munster minor finals in 1991 and 1992, the 1992 final went to a Friday night replay in which a Waterford team led by the likes of Paul Flynn, Anthony Kirwan, Paul Foley, Tom Feeney and a 16-year-old kid called Derek McGrath triumphed and went on to compete unsuccessfully with Galway in that year’s All-Ireland Minor Final.
This Páirc Ui Chaoimh was full of character and 1970s charm and its bowl structure made it a thrilling amphitheater to play in.
The crowd always felt that bit closer to you with the cheers from the stands echoing around the spherical arena.
But it had other idiosyncrasies as well. The players had to cross through the tunnel under the stand to enter the pitch. The elevated sense of excitement and anticipation as stewards held back the supporters who provided an impromptu guard of honour for the players skating across the concrete.
The metal barrier in front of the tunnel which was frequently hurdled by pumped up players ready to go to war. The pitch itself was also perfect for summer hurling. Even in the warmest of stretches, the sod retained a little bit of give and bounce which transferred to soft or yielding for a spring league game.
Being Cork headquarters you had the posts uniquely coloured red and white which, in front of a Cork inhabited terrace, can be disorienting.
The 2002 Munster title, Waterford’s first senior crown since 1963, will forever be etched in history as captain Fergal Hartley raised the Cup aloft to signal the arrival of a new successful era for the white and blue.
But of course a 1970s stadium built from a soccer template had its limitations too. Cock-ups in ticketing had supporters lined along the sideline and behind the goals too frequently. The dressing rooms were sized to cater for eleven soccer players and not a hurling panel of 26-plus.
No doubt the new structure will be more in tune with the needs of modern players and supporters. Early photographs indicate that the corporate world will also be well catered for with the availability of plenty of prawn sandwiches for those in need of such delicacies.
The one thing that hasn’t changed is its location. Villages like Killeagh (note the current and continuing roadworks) and Castlemartyr are likely to be the same bottlenecks as previous and I’ll be surprised if WLR’s ‘Deise Today’ isn’t knee deep with complaints next Monday morning about traffic problems emanating from what looks certain to be a sell-out event.
Many will also question the necessity for another large stadium in Munster that is likely to remain idle for most of the year save for the occasional Munster Hurling Final and the Cork/Kerry football tie every second season.
But I’ll travel this Sunday with an open mind and let’s hope the new stadium proves to be money well spent as opposed to some sort of white elephant.
Let’s hope for some entertainment too. Both Waterford and Wexford currently operate with a ’sweeper’ in defence reducing their number of attackers by at least one.
I’m certain Davy Fitzgerald will be telling the media how far Waterford are ahead in terms of development and he hopes to emulate this team development over the coming years.
Davy has managed to ‘chill the beans’ sufficiently meaning that promotion to Division 1A of the hurling league and a Leinster final appearance seems to have sated ‘Yellowbelly’ expectations.
Waterford supporters have become used to All-Ireland semi-final appearances and another trip to Croke Park looks on the cards.
Wexford have displayed great endeavour to date and there’s no doubting the threat they pose but I think they lack a couple of deadeye strikers to convert their possession to enough scores to win games against the top teams.
Conor McDonald is a good player but if you needed someone to convert a last minute free to earn a replay I’m not sure I’d be calling on McDonald who has shown jitters when the pressure is on. And I’m not convinced that either Harry Kehoe or Jack Guiney are capable of securing match winning scores.
Wexford have impressive players like Lee Chin, Matthew O’Hanlon and Diarmuid O’Keeffe but Davy is correct: they need more time and developing before they can achieve a final four standing.
Maurice Shanahan, for me, has done more than enough to earn a starting berth this Sunday and is best suited to that ‘Lone Ranger’ role that Derek McGrath frequently operates.
With the likes of Patrick Curran, Tommy Ryan and Stephen Bennett also waiting for their manager’s call, it’s difficult to see how Wexford can possibly outscore their neighbours.
It may not be pretty but a return to headquarters in August for Waterford is the anticipated outcome.

For full story see The Munster Express newspaper or
subscribe to our Electronic edition.

Leave a Comment