Walsh Park revamp must be questioned

Thomas Keane Reports

Over 80 years passed before the third and final secret of Fatima was revealed in the year 2000 and for some it must have felt like the same time span passed before we learned recently, courtesy of the Munster Council’s official website, that another great secret had been revealed.
Since the draws for this year’s Munster Senior and Minor Hurling Championship were made late last autumn many have wondered where Waterford would play its home games against Tipperary and Cork.

Under the microscope: Walsh Park's suitability for hosting Munster Championship matches this summer has been justly called into question. 				| Photos: Noel Browne

Under the microscope: Walsh Park's suitability for hosting Munster Championship matches this summer has been justly called into question. | Photos: Noel Browne


And now we know. Waterford will play Tipperary at Walsh Park on June 3rd with the senior game having a 4pm throw in and they will play Cork two weeks later at 2pm with the minor game between the same two counties throwing in two hours earlier at the same venue. One wonders, however, how Walsh Park will manage to stage both games.
A Google search last weekend showed me that the capacity of Walsh Park is in and around the 12,000 mark. However, when it comes to health and safety for such big games, there’s a possibility that this capacity will be cut. And if this happens, one wonders where this will leave the supporters not just of Waterford but also from Tipperary and Cork. Since 2006, in non-Munster Final games, Waterford have played Tipperary once, and Cork on five occasions.
The smallest official attendance in these six games over the past 12 years was 16,025 when Waterford and Cork drew at Thurles back in 2004.
The second smallest attendance came twelve months later when the same two counties clashed at the same venue when just over 5,000 more than the 2004 figure was in attendance in Thurles to see two sides who have built up a great rivalry since that clash.

When Waterford last played Tipperary in a non-Munster Championship Final (the 2006 Munster Semi-Final), a healthy 27,680 passed through the turnstiles.
If the game does go ahead as planned according to the Munster Council’s website, where will that leave the supporters?
Firstly, sponsors will have to get their quota of tickets as will the players who in accordance with an agreement between the Gaelic Players Association and the GAA who are entitled to a set amount of tickets each. Then there are officials of the Munster Council and both County Boards to take into account.
The clubs will also have to be looked after and you can see the amount of space available in Walsh Park already diminishing, taking all of the aforementioned into account.
And then there are the supporters who have bought Season Tickets who have to be catered for before any tickets goes on sale to the general public through different outlets like the GAA’s online ticket site and outlets like Supervalu.
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Now we all know Waterford have one of the better supported senior hurling teams in the country. Having reached the All-Ireland Final last September and running Galway to within a buck of the ball, many expect Derek McGrath’s side to go a step further this year, so it’s envisaged that his charges will be well supported when it comes to the Championship. But with, at best, a 12,000 capacity in Walsh Park available for those two home outings, Deise support alone could well fill all or nearly all the space available. Cork always brings big support to Championship games and with over 150 clubs in the rebel county they too could sell out Walsh Park on their own.
Tipperary has just over 70 clubs and like Cork will generate a big support whenever they play. The Premier County won the All-Ireland Final in 2016 and many expected them to put back to back titles last year but they failed to deliver.
However, many expect them to do well again this year, with many shred hurling supporters tipping Tipperary to challenge Galway strongest for the title in August, and as a result they too will have big support throughout the year as many will be trying their hardest to guarantee themselves All-Ireland tickets in August should the Premier County be involved.

Another question that the GAA will have to ask itself when it comes to Waterford regards parking (a point Dermot Keyes and I have opposing views on, as regular readers will be aware of). For both of Waterford’s home games with the ‘full house’ signs showing around the venue if the capacity is set around 12,000 it is envisaged that between four and five thousand cars will descend on Waterford both days. For the game with Cork the majority of these cars will be coming from the one direction, from the West Waterford side. Therefore one wonders where all these cars will be put. Yes, there is a sizeable car park at the nearby Waterford Shopping Centre and in the area around Saint Paul’s Church. WIT might open their car park along Sunrise Crescent. The Mount Sion Club as always may well open up their facilities for parking, while the WIT Arena which also has a large car park. albeit over three mils away from Walsh Park. However, the aforementioned facilities between then hold in the region of 4,000 cars.
For the game with Tipperary the parking issue might not be the same problem as for the Cork game insofar a lot of the Premier support will come into over Rice Bridge (or the TF Meagher crossing) and might find parking in the car park spaces on the Quay, the Hypermarket and possibly even at Miller’s Marsh and Bolton Street.
But what lengths will be taken to afford disabled and elderly supporters reasonable access to Walsh Park?

We’ve been told more than once of late that Walsh Park is the only venue within the county that the GAA wants to develop to host big games.
But when it comes to the hosting of big games in the county, parking, in addition to the capacity that can be reached at Walsh Park are the two reasons I believe it’s simply unsuitable for such games. Of course, who am I to judge as to where Waterford’s County Ground should be. Nonetheless, we’re all entitled to an opinion on the issue and I cannot avoid reaching the conclusion that there are better options for hosting major GAA matches in Waterford than Walsh Park.

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