Musgrave Park to double its capacity

Musgrave Park is to undergo a multi-million euro face-lift which will double the capacity and transform it into a municipal type stadium.

The home of Cork rugby will benefit from an investment of between €15-17 million, resulting in an increased capacity of 14,000, and will be available for soccer games, too.

Work is expected to start next year, once Thomond Park is re-opened and up and running, and the project is due to take a year to complete.

It will make the venue available to stage a certain level of Heineken Cup game as well as major European club and under-age international soccer matches.

The Munster Branch of the IRFU already have planning permission to build a two-storey stand on the site of the existing building and they will be submitting plans soon for a similar stand on the opposite side.

Terracing behind both goals will remain in place and the two tenant clubs, Sunday’s Well and Dolphin, will continue to use the venue for senior games.

The ambitious development is the brain-child of Niall O’Driscoll, who was branch president in 2004 while representing junior club Bandon.

He chairs a development committee comprising Nicky Comyn, Ken Lyons, Jim Riordan, Maurice Walsh, Brian Nolan and Garrett Fitzgerald, a mixture of Cork and Limerick personnel.

And O’Driscoll, a director of ODM, the accountancy practice which has sponsored the Munster Senior Cup in recent years, is also heavily involved in the €40m Thomond Park re-development which is scheduled to finish in September with a 26,000 capacity.

“We are solely responsible for the development of both Thomond Park and Musgrave Park.

“We started out as a committee in 2003, when I was branch senior vice-president and Dr Len Harty was president,” O’Driscoll said.

At the time he became embroiled in controversy after an interview in which O’Driscoll was misquoted.

“I was asked how are we going to look after our supporters in the future if Munster keep on being successful.

“I suggested we may have to look at a green field site on the Cork side of Limerick city, a place near the racecourse, or try and develop Thomond Park.

“But when the report appeared it said I mentioned Charleville as a possible venue and of course the proverbial hit the fan.

“I never said anything about Charleville, but I did want to put something out there about the need to plan for the future.

“The word came back from Limerick then that they had better do something about it.”

O’Driscoll formed part of the Thomond Park Development Company Ltd, comprising Pat Whelan, Ken Lyons, John Hartery, Garrett Fitzgerald, Martin Murphy, representing the IRFU, who own the ground, Steve Cunningham, the project engineer.

“It was formed as a technicality really because we were spending 40m on a ground that wasn’t ours.

“Again it was a combination of people from Cork and Limerick and it worked out very well.”

He was also mindful of the need to improve Musgrave Park’s facilities and was instrumental in ploughing ahead with the new stand.

This will provide 6,570 seats, dressingrooms, gym, medical rooms, offices and toilets in a development which also provide 165 car and four coach spaces for match day parking alongside 100 others for daily use.

But O’Driscoll always saw the bigger picture.

“One day I was standing on north terrace looking down the pitch and I thought this is not going to look right at all. It will be like half a horse.

“We’ll have a stand for over 6,500 on one side and nothing, apart from a terrace, on the other side. I went back to the committee and said we should try and go for a stadium.

“So, we went to Joe Gavin, the city manager who has been very supportive over the years, and told him of our plans.

“He said if we went down the road of a municipal style stadium, incorporating soccer, he would support it.

“And that’s the way forward for us now.”

Musgrave Park became Munster’s base for home Magners League games this season while Thomond Park was being spruced up.

“We won’t do anything until such time as Thomond Park is open, just in case there are any last minute hitches with the health and safety people there.

“We’re at the design stage with Wilson architects and they’ll come back to us before we go for planning, which will happen in a few months.

“I expect building to commence in 2009, subject to planning, of course.

“I don’t want to see Cork losing big fixtures, like Munster-Leinster in the Magners League for example.

“Tickets for that game before Christmas were sold out six weeks in advance and I don’t want that kind of fixture going to Thomond Park just because Musgrave Park wouldn’t be capable of taking the crowds.

“There will be Heineken Cup games in Cork again in the future, but only for the likes of an Italian team for example. Thomond Park will continue to stage all the big games.

“And in fairness the Limerick people have said they will support Musgrave Park in the same way we’ve supported Thomond Park.”

Interest in the famous Limerick ground has been enormous, according to O’Driscoll, who confirmed all 1,500 10-year tickets at a cost of €5,000 and €5,500 have been sold.

“I’m still getting calls about availability.”

And he’s also involved in a matter which is sure to spark more controversy in the not too distant future.

That’s the hot topic of naming rights!

“All I’m going to say is that it’s whittled down to a handful.”

There seems to be more certainty about the choice of opposition for the grand unveiling, though.

The All Blacks are itching to finally make up for that 12-0 defeat 30 years ago, when Munster shocked the rugby world on that fateful day, October 31, 1978.

“New Zealand want to set the record straight.

“When they were last in Ireland two years ago 180 fans travelled by bus to Limerick to see this famous ground.

“Thomond Park is a big thing in New Zealand.”

The regeneration of the two grounds here is an answer to the huge demand to see Munster play.

Tickets for home Heineken Cup games are guarded jealously, but the increased capacities should go a long way towards meeting needs.

Munster’s heroics in being crowned European champions in 2006 is having a spin-off in numbers playing the game.

“There are more schools playing rugby and the growth in club under-age rugby is phenomenal.

“The Munster club jersey was the biggest seller in the world a few years ago and all this is fuelled by the team.

“Of course nobody can expect Munster will keep this up for ever.

“As in all sports you will lose some fringe support, but I reckon the support base will become stronger.

“There’s huge work being done for the future, the next four or five seasons, not just this season or next.”

Courtesy of The Evening Echo

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