This week saw another abortive effort on the part of the County Board to stick their snouts into the Munster championship trough. About the best that can be said is that there is no direct sense of humiliation from the negative response, something that couldn’t be said the last time they tried it. Decision made, move on.
Ah, but where would be the fun in moving on? The situation contains much that is worth pondering, and a useful hook from which to start the pondering is this tweet from Brian Flannery:
If you added up all the monies spent on both Walsh Park and Fraher Field over the last 20 years you could have had a nice 20,000 stadium
— Brian Flannery (@BrianJAFlannery) November 21, 2013
In itself, it sounds right. The folly of splitting money for development of the two venues was surely demonstrated during the summer when poor light meant the Minor match against Tipperary came perilously close to being abandoned, and certainly would have been had it gone into extra-time. Meanwhile there was a venue twenty-something miles down the road with floodlights. The penny (pinching) had dropped when the venue for the match against Clare had been chosen, and presumably it’ll be quietly factored in for future evening throw-ins in Waterford, but the kind of farce we can do without after the Rhythm Fest debacle was avoided more by chance than design, and all because the Waterford County Board can’t decide on a primary venue for the county.
In fairness, there’s not much they can do about the attitude of the Munster Council. I can’t find any specific reason why the request to stage the Cork game in Walsh Park was turned down, although the RTÉ report above hints at capacity issues. Given our opening games in the Championship for the last two years against Clare have drawn crowds barely over 12,000 they are obviously putting a lot of faith in the idea that the Cork game next May will be what Hoganstand.com hilariously calls a “glamour tie“. There’s no way either of our venues will be brought up to the capacity that the Munster Council seems to think is typical of a Munster Championship match. Until that notional anticipated attendance changes, one that is currently more a reflection of their belief in the grandeur of the competition rather than the objective trend in these backdoor days, we can forget about having Munster games in Waterford. Unless Kerry return to the hustings. something that’ll only happen if they think they have a chance of beating us so we could probably cope without that.
However, that doesn’t mean that there’s no need for Brian Flannery’s 20,000 capacity venue in the county. Even a 10,000 capacity ground would be a worthwhile goal if it had one covered stand capable of keeping the rain off 3,000 people (without them having to huddle in the aisles) and three banks of stepped terraces around the other sides. The improvements to Walsh Park don’t come anywhere close to this level, so it’s still an open question as to which of the two venues would be best. A convincing case can be made for either ground. Walsh Park is closest to the largest section of the population while Fraher Field is at the geographical heart. Walsh Park is currently closer to an acceptable standard while Fraher Field has more scope for improvement – I can see issues with building a fully covered stand backing on the road in Walsh Park while there is space in Fraher for demolishing and starting again. What is required here is leadership. Someone to take a decision based on the merits of one or the other and give us something that we can all row in behind.
And this is where it gets depressing. Following comments around the web, it seems clear that there is an East v West divide on this issue. Any decision will be seen as a conspiracy from those lot on the other side of the county to drag us all the way to Waterford/Dungarvan. This is insane. No one is suggesting driving salt into ground at the venue that is not selected to be the primary one in the county, just that the lion’s share of any budget go to one venue while the other is maintained to its current standard. If it’s really impossible to choose because the factors governing which ground suits our collective best is so finely balanced, then toss a bloody coin! Just make a decision and stick with it rather than have this continuing malaise. But I fear that making the decision based on something as objective as that would not disguise the underlying problem – that there really is an East v West divide that doesn’t just affect the Walsh Park v Fraher Field debate but affects everything and, as a consequence, inhibits everything as decisions are made to ensure neither nose is put out of joint rather than what is better for the collective county. All these years I thought I was following Waterford. Turns out I was following Belgium all along.