Tuesday 12 December 2017

Thomond is the threatre of dreams for Munster rugby

Book review - Alen Aherne

The Story of Thomond Park - Where Miracles Happen
The Story of Thomond Park - Where Miracles Happen

Every sport has its iconic venues, places of worship for ardent fans whose lives have been enriched by the great players and teams they have witnessed performing on their very own theatre of dreams.

In an Irish context, Croke Park and Dalymount Park, those relatively near neighbours on the northside of Dublin, spring readily to mind for G.A.A. and soccer respectively.

And when it comes to Munster rugby, there's something very special about Thomond Park which is the jewel in the crown of venues in the sports-mad city of Limerick.

The magnificent stadium adorning the Hassetts Cross site wasn't always as salubrious though, so it's fascinating to learn the full story of its development in another attractive book to emerge from the Collins Press stable.

'The Story of Thomond Park - Where Miracles Happen' is the work of widely respected rugby journalist Charlie Mulqueen who watched his first game at the venue at the age of eight in 1951, and Brendan O'Dowd who won Munster Schools Cup and Senior Cup medals there as well as featuring on provincial teams at all levels.

Thomond Park was first developed and used as a rugby venue in 1934, but the plush new stadium wasn't opened on the same site until 2008.

In between the ground managed to create and retain a special charm for all rugby followers in the region, although it had humble beginnings when some locals referred to it as 'Pneumonia Park'.

This book traces the development of the facility down through the years and recalls the many memorable matches and players watched by the Thomond faithful.

And it's a mirror image of how the game of rugby itself has developed as we move from an era when the local Limerick club rivalry and the Munster Senior Cup was the big attraction, all the way through to the dawn of the professional era in 1995 and the ascent of the Heineken Cup.

Indeed, the Munster brand became so successful during the golden era led by Ronan O'Gara and company that it became a necessity to re-develop Thomond Park to increase its capacity and finally give supporters the measure of comfort they deserved.

One striking photograph tells that tale as it shows a long, winding queue of fans in the old stand waiting to purchase tickets for a big game. Many were disappointed until work on the stadium was completed, and it now ranks alongside any of the top rugby venues in Europe for spectator comfort.

It always had a brilliant atmosphere, even in the days when the surrounds weren't anything to write home about. Nowadays there can be no complaints on that score, even if the Munster machine may have stalled somewhat on the field.

Of course, Thomond will always be remembered for playing host to the province's historic 12-0 win over the All Blacks on the last day of October, 1978.

Naturally enough, that memorable day in the ground's history gets special treatment in the book, and one fantastic photograph of the after-match celebrations adorns the cover as the late Moss Keane extends his right arm to accept the congratulations of a jubilant fan.

Obviously this book will appeal to rugby stalwarts in the main, but I'm not in that category and still found it a most entertaining read.

Visit The Book Centre on Wexford's Main Street for the very best selection of sports books.

Wexford People

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