MUNSTER are open to the prospect of a long-term sharing arrangement with Cork City FC at Musgrave Park, with the First Division soccer club saying they would also be willing to agree to such a deal.
Cork City are due to play two pre-season friendlies at Musgrave Park on February 4 against Shamrock Rovers and February 18 versus Sligo Rovers while work is being done on the pitch at nearby Turner's Cross. Both parties say the prospect of the regular hosting of Cork City's matches at the rugby ground is on the table and talks have taken place on the issue.
Munster are planning the redevelopment of the Pearse Road ground with the ultimate goal of increasing the capacity from its current 8,500 to between 18 and 22,000. But, with the economic downturn adding to the challenge, Munster are trying to raise the €8m needed to replace the existing stand with a state-of-the-art facility that would house branch offices, dressing-rooms and increase the capacity to 12,500.
"We would certainly be open to the prospect of more discussions with Cork City, in the event that the stadium gets redeveloped," said Munster sales and marketing manager, Glyn Billinghurst. "Munster had exploratory talks with Cork City and other sporting bodies about the matter when initial development plans were being drawn up and there are numerous examples of successful municipal stadiums around Europe.
"However, for the time being, the plan does not stretch beyond two pre-season friendlies, that will not interfere with existing All-Ireland League fixtures, and we are currently concentrating on raising funds for the redevelopment of the stand. Although we would have to factor in the All-Ireland League matches played at Musgrave Park, we would be open to any discussion that would help us develop a new facility for the city."
Cork City, who drew 1-1 with Bayern Munich in the UEFA Cup in 1991 when Dave Barry scored a famous goal, say they are looking forward to playing next month's friendlies at the ground and would be amenable to strengthening the partnership looking ahead.
"We're very appreciative of Munster allowing us to play two friendlies in Musgrave Park. Our meetings with Munster Rugby have gone very well and we hope it is a relationship that would grow in the future," said Cork City spokesperson Eanna Buckley.
"We don't know at this stage how far the relationship with Munster is going to take, but we are certainly open to increased co-operation."
Meanwhile, Munster could make several changes to their starting XV for their final Heineken Cup pool match against London Irish at Thomond Park tomorrow. Tony McGahan's side crashed out of the competition when they lost 32-16 to Toulon at the Stade Felix Mayol last weekend and while the match-day squad is close to last weekend's, several changes are expected.
This could mean a different second- row partner for Paul O'Connell, with Ian Nagle added to the squad this week, or Mick O'Driscoll stepping up in place of Donncha O'Callaghan and Niall Ronan coming into the back-row with David Wallace moving to blind-side. Tomas O'Leary and Lifeimi Mafi could also return in the backline, while Johne Murphy may be switched to full-back, with Denis Murphy coming onto the left wing.