A little bit of heaven on earth

The spectacular view of Killarney from the terrace in Fitzgerald Stadium shows just how magical the venue actually is.
Picture: Fitzgerald Stadium PR

IS there anywhere on earth quite as alluring and captivating as Fitzgerald Stadium, on a sunshine summer Sunday, when Kerry produce sparkling champagne football that is entirely in keeping with the setting?

The view from the hill – beaming into tens of thousands of homes – was simply breath-taking; Pugin’s spire competing with MacGillycuddy’s Reeks for aerial dominance and David Moran and Aidan O’Shea doing likewise in the sweltering cauldron beneath. Temperatures were soaring well into the twenties with Kerry’s points tally quickly heading in the same direction as the eagerly-awaited battle developed into a relatively one-sided romp.

Teh short-sleeved crows gathering at the gates of the O’Sullivan Stand just after 12 noon

Peter Keane wasn’t the only one entitled to a crack open a smile of satisfaction for a job well done as he shut the door behind him when he got home to Listry on Sunday night. The occasion was an absolute triumph also for the Fitzgerald Stadium committee and the Munster Council and, clearly, the attitude adopted in the lead-up was that if it was worth doing at all, then it was worth doing right.

Even with a significantly reduced capacity, the 31,312 that squeezed through the turnstiles did so in real comfort and it was a different world – and different class – to that dreadful night in Tralee last March when 12,000 supporters were sardine-packed into a rain-sodden venue for a Kerry v Mayo NFL game that could have – and should have – been played in Killarney the following day when it would have attracted double the crowd.

Maligned in the past, with supporters tiring of malfunctioning scoreboards, paperless toilets and splintered planked seating with only bird-splattering as cushions, those involved in running and maintaining Fitzgerald Stadium produced their A-game yesterday and, for that, they deserve every bit of credit that comes their way.

Peter Keane and his team produced it on the field; stadium committee chairman Der Brosnan and his crew did likewise behind the scenes.

The place was immaculate and the home of Kerry football was a place every supporter should have been rightly proud of as the league champions rode into town with all guns blazing and rode out again, without the swag, after firing blanks.

Celtic Steps kept the crowd entertained for an hour before throw-in

Ample parking close to the stadium, a pitch in immaculate condition, impressive new all-weather dug-out zones, absolutely spotless restroom facilities, freshly painted numbered seating and a debut day for a slick new scoreboard, at a comprehensively overhauled Torc Terrace end of the stadium, all contributed to the super Sunday experience and it re-established Dick Fitzgerald’s tribute venue as one of the premier playing fields in the country.

Given that the vast improvements were achieved on a ridiculously paltry shoestring budget makes it all the more laudable and while major finance is being pumped into other GAA projects around the county, the real home of Kerry football – the original centre of excellence – has proved once again that it is more than capable of turning on the style, despite being grossly under-utilised for a whole variety of reasons.

The new scoreboard was a big taking point – and a welcome addition

From as early as 12 noon shirt-sleeved crowds were gathering outside the gates of the O’Sullivan Stand, in the searing heat, and rather than placing them at risk under the elements until the advertised turnstile opening time of 2pm – as has happened at other venues – wise counsel prevailed and the Killarney stewards swung open the gates much earlier.

The O’Sullivan Stand was packed to capacity long before David Rae and Celtic Steps took to the field for a fabulous hour-long treat of trad music, song and dance that was met with whoops of delight from the appreciative crowd. And that set the scene for the carnival atmosphere that prevailed all afternoon with the sparkling performance of the young Kerry team ensuring the feelgood factor remained until Mayo were sent home sweating.

Replace the sangria with tubs of ices and a backdrop of Lou Reed’s anthemic Perfect Day would have been fitting on the tannoy as Kerry fans filed back out through the turnstiles before the Angelus bells sounded.

Just a perfect day
Drink sangria in the park
And then later
When it gets dark, we go home.

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