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A History Of Irish Independent Park

19th March 2020 By The Editor

Munster in pre-season action against London Irish at Irish Independent Park in 2013.

Munster in pre-season action against London Irish at Irish Independent Park in 2013. Inpho

Irish Independent Park, formerly known as Musgrave Park, is the Cork home of Munster Rugby.

Irish Independent Park, formerly known as Musgrave Park, is the Cork home of Munster Rugby.

There have been many changes at the ground since it was purchased by the Munster Branch of the IRFU in 1938.

It’s hard to believe it now but at that time the busy, suburban Ballyphehane area of Cork City was still open country.

The onset of World War 2 put paid to any early development at Musgrave Park but it was possible to build a small pavilion and put in place two playing pitches.

The official opening took place in 1940 and the grounds were named after the late Jimmy Musgrave, who had been prominent in both Munster and Irish rugby for many years.

Dolphin RFC and Sunday’s Well RFC, who at that time were having great difficulties in their grounds, were installed as tenants.

Early Days

During the war the Cork Corporation stored turf on the ‘back pitch’, this mode of heat being so important to the people during those years.

Eventually it was decided to provide a stand – it was a pity that when it was been built that it was erected on such lofty stilts. It was usually closed on match days, but on the odd occasion that it was opened to the public, such as a visit of a touring side or an interprovincial match it was usually half full. Eventually it was demolished and a structure almost the full length of the pitch installed, the timber seating came from the original West Stand in Lansdowne Road.

The Munster team that beat Australia in 1981.

The Munster team that beat Australia in 1981.

Touring Sides

Incredibly, Munster have recorded a hat-trick of wins over Australia at Irish Independent Park.

Munster became the first Irish province to defeat a major touring team in 1967 when Tom Kiernan led his side to an 11-8 victory over Australia at Irish Independent Park.

Six years later, Munster were agonisingly close to defeating the All Blacks for the first time as a last-minute penalty by full-back Trevor Morris snatched a dramatic 3-3 draw for New Zealand in Cork.

Australia were defeated for the second time in 1981 following a vintage performance from Tony Ward.

The Munster team celebrate beating Australia in 1981.

The Munster team celebrate beating Australia in 1981.

The most famous victory over the Wallabies arrived in 1992 as Australia travelled to Cork as the reigning world champions.

Head Coach Garrett Fitzgerald masterminded another victory thanks to a sensational injury time drop goal by Jim Galvin.

Derek Tobin in action in the 1992 win over Australia.

Derek Tobin in action in the 1992 win over Australia.

European Rugby

Munster’s second ever home European Cup game was played at Irish Independent Park with Milan defeated 23-5 in October 1996.

Anthony Foley tackles and Ben Cronin hurdles in the first European game against Milan at Musgrave Park. ©INPHO/Tom Honan

When the Heineken Cup format switched to the current format (pools of four teams playing each other home and away) in 1997/98, Munster played two home games at Thomond Park and one at Irish Independent Park.

In the 1998/99 season, all three home Pool games were played at Irish Independent Park as the North, South and East Terraces at Thomond Park were upgraded for the 1999 Rugby World Cup.

For the 1999/2000 season, Munster returned to the system of playing two Pool games at Thomond Park and one at Irish Independent Park.

The upgrades at Thomond Park had increased the capacity of the ground to 14,000 and all Pool games were played at the venue from the 2003/04 campaign.

Munster’s won seven of their eight Heineken Cup Pool games played at Irish Independent Park.

John Hayes scores one of his four tries in 217 Munster appearances against Perpignan at Musgrave Park in 2002.

John Hayes scores one of his four tries in 217 Munster appearances against Perpignan at Musgrave Park in 2002.

Cork City v Bayern Munich

Our neighbours Cork City played one of the most famous games in the club’s history at Irish Independent Park in 1991.

The first leg of their glamour UEFA Cup tie with famous German side Bayern Munich was played at the ground with Dave Barry scoring City’s goal at the Sunday’s Well end in a 1-1 draw played in front of 4,500 supporters.

City also played friendly matches against Celtic, Leeds United and Manchester City at Irish Independent Park in the months prior to the clash.

New Era

The venue has seen significant developments in the last five years with a new West Stand seating 3,500 completed in 2015 with the East Terrace also covered as part of that development.

The West Stand replaced a temporary stand that had been in place since 2011.

The old West Stand was replaced in 2011.

The old West Stand was replaced in 2011….

...with a temporary stand taking its place.

…with a temporary stand taking its place.

The new West Stand was completed in 2015 with a new surface installed in 2018.

The new West Stand was completed in 2015 with a new surface installed in 2018.

A new modified 3G pitch was installed in 2018 to allow for a significant increase in games played to assist in the province’s efforts of growing the game at grassroots level.

Irish Independent Park sold out all four Guinness PRO14 games at the venue for the first time last year.

The development has also allowed the venue to host the Ireland U20s’ 6 Nations matches for the past two years.

There has been a huge increase in the number of club and schools games played at the venue with various club from different sports also availing of the modified 3G surface.

The stadium has also developed into a top class concert venue with artists such as George Ezra, Liam Gallagher, Lewis Capaldi and The Coronas performing sold-out shows at Irish Independent Park last year.

Centre of Excellence

Munster Rugby recently received a €1.512m grant from the Government’s Large-Scale Sport Infrastructure Fund (LSSIF) for a Centre of Excellence at Irish Independent Park.

The funding will go towards the construction of an indoor training facility with planning permission already approved for the project.

The new facility will be built primarily for Munster Rugby’s underage squads and the surrounding community with local clubs, schools and community groups set to benefit.

The grant announcement is a fantastic starting point but there is more work to be done in securing the remaining funds with a projected cost of €2.88m.

The new indoor training facility will be located at the Pearse Road end of the stadium and will include a synthetic all-weather playing surface, a gymnasium, dressing rooms, treatment rooms, a kitchen and public toilets.

The all-weather playing surface will be 60 by 40 metres and the gymnasium will be 2,000 square feet. The plans also include a new single-storey ticketing booth and increased parking for both cars and buses.

The facilities are at the centre of Munster’s strategy for growing the game in the province and engaging with the local community and will complete phase three of Irish Independent Park’s development.

Thanks to former Munster Branch Hon. Sec. Frank Byford for providing additional information for this article.

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