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Independent Republic of Cork: rugger rebels get a new home


Munster Senior Cup

Munster Senior Cup

JJ Hanrahan kicks for Munster versus London Irish at Musgrave Park

JJ Hanrahan kicks for Munster versus London Irish at Musgrave Park

Paul O'Connell, Munster, in action during the game. Celtic League 2013/14, Round 4, Munster v Newport Gwent Dragons, Musgrave Park, Cork.

Paul O'Connell, Munster, in action during the game. Celtic League 2013/14, Round 4, Munster v Newport Gwent Dragons, Musgrave Park, Cork.

Munster V Glaswegians

Munster V Glaswegians


Munster Senior Cup

The World Champions buckled as a red wave crashed down on their try line. How they wished to be back on Bondi Beach away from the bombardment.

On an autumn evening at Musgrave Park in 1992, the unbeaten Wallabies swaggered on to the famous old turf in their golden jerseys. . . and left red-faced.

This week builders and painters were putting the finishing touches to the redeveloped stadium, now known as Irish Independent Park. The first match in the shiny, relaunched venue will be between Irish Wolfhounds and English Saxons next Friday..

As I gazed across the field of dreams I recalled vividly how the Aussie Goliath was slain that day 22 years ago.

Munster Captain that day, Terry Kingston, recalls one pivotal moment in the fiery encounter when the ground shook in the Cork city suburb of Ballyphehane.

"We were over in the Australian's corner, we had built up a load of momentum at this stage, we had them just where we wanted them and the crowd were roaring. There was a scrum and they collapsed it. We were awarded a pushover try and I'll tell you something, Musgrave Park went wild," Kingston recalls.

Munster landed a late drop goal to clinch a remarkable 22-19 victory - Corkonians danced home - the bigger they are the harder they fall.

The Australian coach Bob Dwyer was spitting fire after his visit to Musgrave Park. He labelled the Munster side 'animals' and targeted the majority of his ire at Peter Clohessy, describing 'the Claw' as 'a disgrace'.

"Ah look, that was all sour grapes. We took his World Cup winners apart and he didn't like it. It was a tough old game with a lot of hits but that's what you would have expected in these types of games. The referee had no problem with Peter (Clohessy) and that's all that matters," says Terry Kingston.

Down through the years, Musgrave Park witnessed three wins by the Province over Australia and in 1973 the All-Blacks needed a last-gasp penalty to salvage a 3-3 draw with the red menaces from the South.

Whatever it was about Musgrave Park, the giants felt vulnerable here on Leeside. For years temporary stands and a grass bank gave the best vantage point. It was a stadium only in name. Teams had to change in the Dolphins and Sundays Well dressing rooms - the two clubs having clubhouses on the site and medics and members of the press worked from portable cabins.

Now all has changed.

When supporters file through the turnstiles next Friday night they'll see a modern stadium with a capacity of 10,000 and witness a new dawn for rugby on Leeside.

"The total cost of the redevelopment work at Irish Independent Park has come to €3.25m and we're really thrilled with the outcome. The project has been completed on budget," explains Philip Quinn, Munster's financial controller. "For years we've talked about developing Musgrave Park but so many things had to fall into place first for that to happen. It's great for Munster and it's great for Cork.

''While a lot of focus has been placed on Thomond Park in Limerick in recent years and a lot of investment injected there, we always wanted to redevelop Musgrave Park and it's just great to see the work nearly complete."

Land to the city side of the ground was sold off to the fast-food giant McDonald's, the Irish Independent bought naming rights for the stadium and lottery funding of €600,000, which was initially given in 2004, were all used to finance the redevelopment work.

In the new West Stand a label which includes the words 'Irish Independent Park', and the title's trademark green harp, are attached to each one of the 3,556 red seats. The state-of-the-art stand replaces a temporary one which was torn down just last June.

I visit the spacious dressing rooms and a modern hospitality section. The Munster Rugby Supporters Club raised €120,000 to pay for the East Terrace to be covered. A supporter is painting the words on the wall 'To the brave and the faithful, nothing is impossible' - it's the first sign away sides will set their eyes on when they run out of the tunnel.

With four Pro-12 competitive games lined up over the coming months as well as a concert by Katherine Jenkins and José Carreras, the new and improved stadium will be bustling with activity.

For many, Munster Senior Schools' Cup is the be all and end all. Musgrave Park has always been their holy grail and their destiny.

Over the years, the stadium has hosted many Munster School Senior Cup Finals. If you're a fan of the oval ball in Cork, then its here you naturally end up on St Patrick's Day.

These finals have witnessed the birth of stars who have gone on to bigger and better things once they left their teenage years and became men.

Amongst them Ronan O'Gara, who won a Senior Cup medal in 1995 with Peter Stringer in the colours of Presentation Brothers College. David Wallace led Crescent College to glory while Donnacha Ryan was the driving force behind St Munchin's College's win in 2002.

Just four years later Keith Earls repeated the feat for the same school. The 'bull' himself Paul O'Connell contested a final in the competition when Limerick's Ardscoil Rís reached the student showcase event in 1996.

Irish Independent Park's facilities manager Ian Dunne explains what it means to see the work here all but completed. "We've dreamt about this for a long time. From a logistical point of view the project has been very demanding but BAM Contractors, who we've worked with, have been superb."

He added: "It's also something of an emotional occasion as the late Niall O'Driscoll, a former Munster Rugby president, had been trying for years to push on this project. We're thinking of him now as we redevelop the place."

For former Munster players such as Terry Kingston, the new improved ground signifies a resurgence of rugby focus in Cork city.

"I suppose we felt we'd been left behind down here with all the building and innovation that has been taking place in Limerick so this is a tonic for us. Also I hope is that it can help our players really identify with the stadium now and use it to their advantage. It will encourage people to come and watch rugby here and that's what it's all about."

Frank Byford, a former Munster branch honorary secretary, explains how the ground here came about in the first place.

"The land was purchased by the Munster branch of the IRFU in 1938, when the Ballyphehane area was still open country and the Dolphin and Sundays Well clubs were installed as tenants," he says. "The grounds were named after the late Jimmy Musgrave, who had been prominent in both Munster and Irish rugby for many years. Musgrave Park was officially opened on Sunday, November 10, 1940."

In all, Munster have locked horns with touring nations at senior level on nine occasions at Musgrave Park. The record over Australia is particularly pleasing, with just one loss to go with those three victories.

The first senior international touring side to visit was South Africa in 1960 and they duly registered a 9-3 win.

The All Blacks made the journey to Cork just twice. Perhaps the fright they received on their initial visit in 1973, when they salvaged a draw with the last kick of the game, kept them away. When they did return 16 years later, they were in no mood for tight encounters and romped home with a 31-9 win.

Argentina drew 12-12 with Munster when they came a calling in 1973 and the last international touring side to face the men in red at Musgrave Park were Samoa in 1996, when they ran out 35-25 victors.

For all the rugby memories associated with the ground, it also holds a special place in the hearts of the city's soccer fraternity.

For here, in September 1991, Dave Barry netted the most exquisite of goals for Cork City against Bayern Munich as, somehow, the part-timers held the mighty Germans to a 1-1 draw in the Uefa Cup. The result sent shock-waves across Europe and Musgrave Park was shown on every corner of the continent as supporters went crazy pitch side.

Before the game, Bayern's star player Stefan Effenberg, with his huge mop of blonde hair, told reporters that Dave Barry, with only a few strands of hair remaining, looked like his grandfather and that they would beat Cork for sure.

Barry wasn't having it though and his delicious daisy cutter put manners on the controversial German who was nicknamed 'The Tiger'. And when asked after the return leg in Munich (which City lost 2-0) about Effenberg's comments, he told the German media: "Whatever about me looking like his grandfather, I think he played like my grandmother!"

Magic musser moments: when aussies and bayern munich met their match

Munster 11  Australia 8, January 25, 1967

Tomorrow marks the 48th anniversary of Munster's first win over a touring nation from the Southern Hemisphere. The Wallabies came to Musgrave Park knowing full well that they'd be in for a bruising encounter. When they faced the Irish province in 1947 they emerged from the Mardyke with just a one point win (6-5) and then in 1958 drew with the men in red 3-3 at Thomond Park. It was third time lucky for the Province as Tommy Kiernan led Munster to a glorious victory over Ken Catchpole and the touring Wallabies by 11-8 at a rain sodden Musgrave Park.

Munster 3 New Zealand 3, January 16, 1973

In many ways Munster's win over the All Blacks in 1978 at Thomond Park overshadowed an amazing performance by the Irish Province at Musgrave Park five years earlier. In a dogged, hard-fought contest, the men in red led 3-0 in the dying moments of the game - the Musgrave Park crowd were going wild, they were on the verge of witnessing history! And then. . . the blow of the referee's whistle signalled a penalty for the relieved All Blacks and the dreams of thousands went up in smoke.


Munster 15 Australia 6, November 17, 1980

Munster's favourite touring nation were back on Leeside. Tony Ward had his radar switched on at Musgrave Park, kicking a drop goal, two penalties and converting the all-important try scored by Packie Derham. In 1992, the Munster boys did it again, beating the then World Champions by 22-19 in the Ballyphehane arena - there's something about that Australian jersey which just brings out the best in our Southern boys.

Cork City 1 Bayern Munich 1, Uefa Cup - 1st round,  September 18, 1991

Boasting a squad of top German internationals, such as Thomas Berthold, Christian Ziege, Markus Babbel and captained by Stefan Effenberg, Bayern Munich turned up at Musgrave Park expecting a stroll in the park - what they got was anything but, as Dave Barrynetted in the 23rd minute. Effenberg equalised before half-time but amid raucous scenes, the Irish part-timers gave the European giants the fright of their lives holding out for a 1-1 draw.

Helen O'ReillY: first female referee of a men's All-Ireland League game, January 16, 2015

As Irish Independent Park embarks on a new era, it's an exciting time in Irish rugby, but earlier this month the stadium witnessed the first ever men's All-Ireland League match in which the referee was a woman. Helen O'Reilly took charge of the Ulster Bank AIL Division 2B game between Sundays Well and Kanturk on a truly historic evening on Leeside.

Indo Review