Munster victorious in Cork's refurbished Irish Independent Park
Munster 33 Cardiff 16
MUNSTER played their first competitive fixture at the new-look Irish Independent Park – and fans hailed the refurbished Cork stadium as a true winner.
The Red Army took on Cardiff Blues in the Guinness Pro12 with fans admitting themselves to be mightily impressed by the redevelopment work at the 75 year old ground.
The official opening of Irish Independent Park is due to take place in a couple of weeks with Munster facing Glasgow Warriors in a critical Pro12 showdown on February 28.
The rebranding and redevelopment is part of a 10 year corporate partnership between Independent News & Media (INM) and Munster Rugby.
A significant portion of the finances from the landmark deal will be invested by Munster Rugby in developing Irish Independent Park.
They have ambitious plans for the 10,000 capacity Cork stadium including a state-of-the-art new West Stand.
It will also see the provision of enhanced dressing rooms, medical facilities, a media centre and social rooms.
INM chairman, Leslie Buckley, said it ranked as one of the most exciting projects in Irish sport.
“This is hallowed ground for Munster rugby and particularly for Cork supporters. The Irish Independent has a strong affinity with Munster rugby which is underpinned by our weekly rugby pull-out exclusively for our Munster readers,” he said.
“We now look forward to positively and successfully building upon that relationship.”
Fans hailed the new-look ground.
“It's fantastic to see a rugby facility like this in Cork. We're huge Munster fans but it is nice not to have to make the long trek up to Thomond Park in Limerick all the time," Michelle Horgan from Rochestown said.
Michelle attended the match with her husband, Rob, son, Ben (9), and his friends, Isaac (9), Evan (10) and Cameron Lee (10).
Tom Coughlan also hailed the ground as a winner for Cork.
"It is great to have matches like these being staged in Cork. I'm already looking forward to the Glasgow match," he said.
Tom attended the match with his wife, Aoife, and children, Reuben (8), Lola (7) and Faye (5).
For keen rugby player, Darrragh O'Brien (8), it was a long-awaited chance to see the new-look ground.
"I play rugby with Muskerry so it is fantastic to see matches like this in Cork. I hope there are loads more to come," he said.
Darragh attended the match with his parents, Maurice and Mona O'Brien from Tower in Cork.
Irish Independent Park is even proving a tourist attraction.
Lena Bencsics from Austria and her Spanish friends, Maria Munoc and Alexia Rodriguez, wanted to see what rugby was all about.
"We only get to see it on TV at home in Austria. We heard about the new stadium and wanted to come tonight to see what it was all about. There is a great atmosphere here," Lena said.
The ground first opened in 1940 and ranks as one of the most famous rugby facilities in the country.
It witnessed the first ever triumph by an Irish provincial side over international tourists when Australia were beaten in 1967.
In 1973 it also saw Munster earn a famous draw against the touring All Blacks.
In 1992, the ground hosted one of Munster’s finest achievements when Australia, the reigning world champions, fell to a famous defeat.
Newstalk presenter and rugby pundit, George Hook, hailed the redevelopment as great news for rugby in Cork and Munster.
“This is a very, very special ground. I first attended matches here back in the 1950s and this isn't just a big game ground - you get schools rugby here and of course club rugby with Sunday's Well and Dolphin.”
“It is intense, passionate and absolutely wonderful here.”
Former Ireland star and Irish Independent columnist, Tony Ward, said the ground holds very special memories for him.
“I won my first big victory with Garryowen here back in the early 1970s and of course played the Wallabies twice here,” he said.