The Kilkenny 'IT Guys' - Nickey Brennan (left) and Dan Cody
Two Kilkenny men were key figures in developing Cork’s space age new Páirc Uí Chaoimh into a super stadium.
Former GAA President, Nickey Brennan from Conahy and Dan Cody from the Callan Road and James Stephens club, who is now a full-time employee of the GAA, helped transform the Páirc into the first Gigabit Stadium in Ireland.
The ‘Kilkenny IT Guys’ as they became known on the job had the mammoth task of delivering the stadium with a significant range of technology to support all its activities which included wi-fi services to enable patrons and customers use their mobile devices throughout the venue.
“Cork will move ahead of Croke Park, from a technology perspective, by the time we are finished,” explained Nickey Brennan of one of the biggest GAA technology projects ever.
“When completed Páirc Uí Chaoimh will become what is known as the first Gigabit Stadium in Ireland.”
That all-embracing term has to do with the scale of technology installed in the stadium which enables the delivery of services such as ticket scanning, CCTV, EPOS, Access Control, TV plus connectivity for Internet access for press/media personnel, conferencing, catering and administration services.
The delivery of fast wi-fi connectivity is a crucial aspect of the technology infrastructure.
“It will be the first stadium in Ireland that will have that classification, apparently on a level with the new stadium being built by Spurs in London,” Nickey added.
Brennan was Director General Padraig Duffy’s representative on the project, and he reported to Duffy directly. He, along with Dan Cody, also had the brief of engaging with the Cork County Board officials and the various contractors on all aspects of the project.
Brennan was chosen because of his vast knowledge of IT issues having been involved in similar developments in Croke Park almost since he retired from Glanbia.
He worked with his fellow county man during his time with Glanbia, when Mr Cody was employed by BT.
“We worked together on technology projects for Glanbia over many years,” Nickey explained. “My brief in Cork was the same as Dan’s, that we implement the best possible technology solution in the stadium.
“Dan brought significant technical know-how to the project.
“My initial involvement with the project commenced in 2015 when I wrote the first technology paper for Cork County Board.
“That included all of the technologies they required in the new stadium and was based on what we had already delivered in Croke Park.”
The pair were involved together in Croke Park during the installation of a new fibre optic network and the development of a state-of-the-art wi-fi service.
That project also included enhancing the technology for conferencing facilities, where customers now expect to have state of the art services plus strong and secure wi-fi available.
“The conferencing facilities in Cork will mirror those of Croke Park, albeit on a smaller scale,” Mr. Brennan said of the Páirc Uí Chaoimh development.
“It just happens to be a sports arena that will double as a business conference centre on non-match days.
“We had targeted a range of services to be delivered for the opening weekend and we provided everything that was needed.
“In the coming weeks, we will commence planning the delivery of the remaining services which will see wi-fi rolled out to the remaining areas of the stadium, plus the upgrading of mobile telephony services,” he added.
At the moment wi-fi is available in the conferencing centre, on the premium level, in office areas and in the press/media areas on Level 0 and Level 3.
Rugby World Cup
“You won’t get it in the bowl of the of the stadium itself just yet, but that will be sorted over the coming months,” Nickey explained.
If Ireland were to get the rugby World Cup in 2023 (that decision is due later this year) it is expected that all of the GAA stadia concerned will require technology upgrading over the next four years.
“Dan will play a leading role in the roll-out of any new technology to GAA grounds,” Nicky explained.
“In fact, he has already undertaken a significant amount of work in this regard in many grounds, including Nowlan Park.”
There is another reason for moving in that direction too. It is business.
A number of the artists who are now performing in major venues like to engage with their audience through social media while the concerts are on. They can Tweet. They can send pictures.
The PR company behind them can also tweet to fans, send them pictures and so on. They want to reach out instantly to fans worldwide, not just those in the stadium.
“If the Internet capacity is in the stadium the opportunity to stream concerts live from venues is also another benefit,” Mr Brennan explained.
“That adds another opportunity for concert promoters to create an additional revenue stream from venues like Croke Park or Cork.”
Vodafone came on board as the technology partner for the Páirc Uí Chaoimh project and, according to Brennan, they became “a significant party” in the entire project.
“Their input to the underlying design of the network was crucial, as was their engagement with multiple third-party suppliers whose technology needed to run on the Vodafone designed infrastructure. Dan played a major role in this engagement with Vodafone,” Nickey said.
“While the technology used by Vodafone in Cork delivered much of the same functionality of that installed in Croke Park, it came from a different manufacturer. Working with Vodafone was a pleasure for both Dan and I.
“It helped in that we knew a number of the people we were working with from our previous lives. There was trust and shared interest there.”
Over recent years as part of the upgrading of the Croke Park technology infrastructure, Nickey Brennan visited the Ajax stadium in Holland on a fact-finding mission.
Two years ago, he was also in Phoenix, Arizona as part of a GAA/DCU/Intel ‘Smart Stadium’ initiative to discuss developments aimed at utilising technology to make the attendance at games a more enjoyable experience for patrons.
Among the finest
“Croke Park (and now Páirc Uí Chaoimh) in terms of top class technology stadia is up there with some of the finest in the world,” Nickey Brennan insisted.
Coming up to the opening of Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the GAA had some concerns about how Hawk Eye might work. It was a different system to what is used in Croke Park or Thurles and was in effect a ‘Point Review System’.
“We worked with TVM, the company with the contract for providing the cameras for RTE and others and with Hawk Eye themselves to deliver a solution for Páirc Uí Chaoimh,” he explained.
“I had confidence in the TVM people, but it was the first time we used a mobile van outside of a ground. That is becoming a common feature of the English Premiership.
“That van came over from Holland for the weekend after covering Dutch soccer. When you are doing something for the first time, you can be nervous. It worked very well, thankfully.”
It was hoped to have Páirc Uí Chaoimh ready for this year’s Muster hurling and football finals, but given the scale of the project it became obvious in recent months that these dates would not be met.
Needed “an occasion”
The opening then needed “an occasion” to launch it, and the hurling All-Ireland quarter-finals involving four counties, Waterford, Wexford, Tipperary and Clare, fitted the bill nicely.
“A splendid weekend of hurling did the venue and project justice,” Nickey felt.
It is expected that the official opening will take place in the autumn, most likely at a Cork county final.
Kilkenny and Cork got in on the act on the opening weekend . They were involved in the curtain raiser on the second day, the All-Ireland intermediate hurling final.
Kilkenny were part of the programme for the original opening of Páirc Uí Chaoimh in 1976. They were back again in 2017!