Sleeping with the enemy

The radioactive cloud from the explosion generated by the Waterford County Board’s abortive attempt to engineer a home-and-away arrangement with Cork for this year’s Munster final succeeded in concealing the reason for that initial attempt – the parlous state of the county’s finances. So it was inevitable once the story had passed through its half-life a few million times – the rate of decay for a story like this being about seven minutes – that the County Board would return to it. Thus we have the proposal for Waterford to play any ‘home’ games that might arise in the Munster championship in the bastion of Munsterness that is Nowlan Park.

Before looking at the substance of the idea, it would be appropriate to address why it is necessary to consider such an arrangement, i.e. the inadequacy of our own county venues at Walsh Park and Fraher Field. The state of these grounds is something on which I’m willing to give the County Board a pass. As with the senior hurling team, they are routinely ridiculed for not being the best-of-the-best, behaviour that can only be performed with a straight face if you forget just how gobsmackingly awful things were back in the 1980’s. Walsh Park consisted of three-and-three-quarter grass banks, none of which had crush barriers, and a sub-Subbuteo stand that was quite literally a cow shed, Graves of Waterford balefully emblazoned upon its side. As for the toilets, let’s just say that I’m glad I’m not a woman. The money that was invested in the 1990’s in the two venues didn’t produce stunning results, but once the easily-justified decision was made, in terms of club use, to maintain both grounds rather than put it all into one, the butter was always going to be spread a little thin. But the toast that was produced was far superior to the burnt offerings of yore. And it goes without saying that we should be grateful that such indecision regarding the prime location for the county spared us the grotesque white elephants that hang around the necks of those counties not fortunate enough to have a JP McManus ready to pay for someone to continuously dispose of its dung. Procrastination may be a vice to some, but (spoiler alert) Claudius still ended up dead with Hamlet, didn’t he?

Still, the lack of a revenue stream from the occasional five-figure attendance is clearly a problem, so how does the notion of making Kilkenny a home-away-from-home go down? People in the west of the county will doubtless bristle at the *checks Google Maps* 80.5km journey from Dungarvan to Kilkenny compared to the 49.8km one from the city, swanky new toll-free (thank you, Martin Cullen) motorway to boot. But in what way are they more inconvenienced than, say, travelling to Thurles (83.7km)? And they’ve never expressed any sympathy for those of us in the east of the county who have to travel an additional 46km to get to Cork whenever games are staged there. Travelling is a feature of championship matches for everyone outside of Dublin, and you wouldn’t want to be accused of whinging like lowdown Jackeens, would you?

Of more concern would be the reaction of the Munster Council. Much like their counterparts in rugby Munster consider themselves of being made of the right stuff in comparison to the other provinces, to the extent that they have limited all senior hurling matches to the super venues in Thurles, Cork, Limerick and Killarney, although Fitzgerald Stadium has fallen off the radar in recent years. I’m pretty sure this is official, but in the absence of being able to locate anything to that effect on the internet, consider this: Cusack Park in Ennis is a tidy enough ground which, while lacking much in the way of seating, has proper terraces all the way around. Yet despite this and its respectable capacity of 28,000, similar to that of Nowlan Park, it is never used for Munster championship matches. In addition, the Munster Council are happy to go out of their way to accommodate the big grounds as evidenced by the fiasco in 2008 when Waterford were obliged to play Clare in the Gaelic Grounds, a place where you wouldn’t need Google Maps to know its proximity to the respective counties. It would offend the dignity of the Munster Championship for the matches to be played  anywhere other than a 45,000 capacity ground, even if Waterford’s three matches last year would collectively have just about filled Semple Stadium. And as for staging a match outside the province, that might be good enough for those savages in Ulster, but in Munster . . . someone pass the smelling salts.

There are lots of good reasons to stage Waterford’s ‘home’ games in Kilkenny, and the reasons against are mostly trivial, parochial and small-minded. It hasn’t a hope of happening.