If there are no hitches in the planning process, the wrecking ball will arrive at Lansdowne Road early next year to finally raze the oldest international rugby stadium in the world. And by late 2009, a brand new 55,000 all-seater facility will emerge in its place.
Although, the FAI Cup final between Derry City and St Patrick’s Athletic is scheduled for this Sunday, and then Leinster are due to play Ulster in rugby’s Celtic League on 30 December to mark the old ground’s final farewell, last weekend was the end of an era for Ireland teams over the ages which have made their home in Dublin 4.
Curiously, when all that was going to happen was that one lump of concrete was about to replaced by a more modern lump of concrete, the imminent bulldozing of Lansdowne Road as we know it got people ruminating about life in modern Ireland.
While the country has earned its reputation as a fast-moving, progressive society with the de Valera image of the country firmly consigned to the history books, there was still this carbuncle on the sporting landscape where the nation’s rugby and soccer teams continued to grapple with the world’s elite who must have been scratching their heads in wonder every time they set foot in such a prehistoric arena.
For a time, rugby and soccer were regarded as infinitely more cool and cutting edge than Gaelic games, yet it was the GAA which forged ahead with the magnificent new Croke Park. And as someone aptly put it, Lansdowne Road might have been a dump, but it was our dump.
And the dump had been graced by class, and even genius. Jackie Kyle, Willie John McBride, Mike Gibson and Keith Wood of Ireland past had enthralled in the old place. Opponents such as Barry John and Gareth Edwards of Wales, David Campese of Australia and Jonny Wilkinson of England were also stars who made their mark in the modern age of rugby, while Olympic gold medallists Ronnie Delany and Fanny Blankers-Koen also competed in track meetings.
If Lansdowne always appeared to be a temporary staging post for Irish soccer, Johnny Giles, Liam Brady, Paul McGrath and Roy Keane enhanced their reputations in famous games, while Maradona, Michel Platini and Thierry Henry might not have overly vivid memories of the shabby showpiece trapped between a railway line and the Dodder river, but they still came and played.
For kids who began their pilgrimage as recently as the 1980s, Lansdowne Road was a special place. Even if those weren’t vintage days for Irish rugby, the ground was so compact that you could see the whites of the players’ eyes.
But once you became a bit older and wiser, and once you ventured out maybe to other grounds in Britain or France, you realised what you had been missing. And later, actually working in the bowels of the stadium as a journalist came with all the comforts of a borstal.
Today, the whipper-snappers who have tickets for the big rugby and soccer games have probably already been to the Nou Camp in Barcelona, and they’ve certainly been to the world-class edifice that is Croke Park. So, for the current generation of youngsters, Lansdowne Road has been a curiosity, and never a theatre of dreams.
Maybe it was appropriate given the stadium’s long-faded allure that Ireland’s last soccer game was against those giants of the world game, San Marino, and that the last international rugby game was against a makeshift selection from the Pacific Islands. These weren’t salubrious occasions, but at least the great Paul O’Connell scored the last try at the old ground, and that was something which won’t be forgotten in a hurry.
The Six Nations fixtures against France and England early next year will be staged at Croke Park, which will also open its doors to international soccer. The only people shedding a tear between now and 2009 will probably be the Ballsbridge publicans who will miss the match-day trade in their annual takings.
The rest of us will enjoy rugby on the northside of the capital city, and hope that the likes of Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Denis Leamy and O’Connell will still be around when Lansdowne Road re-opens.
I have to admit that as kids in the late 1960s, a few of us were often waiting outside the ground, with packed lunches and a desire to get a vantage point on the south terrace, long before the gates opened. We had more patience than sense, but back then, Lansdowne Road was where it was at. Maybe those days will come around again.
Taylor is top of the world
It’s not so unusual to have an Irish world champion, and not so unusual to have an Irish world champion boxer, but when the boxer happens to be a woman, that changes things.
Katie Taylor went to the recent World Championships in India with a pedigree. As the reigning European lightweight champion, we probably expected something; however, not the sort of dominance she exerted over her opponents.
From the first of five fights in the space of six days to the final against Argentina’s Annabella Farias, the 20-year-old from Bray, Co. Wicklow, was unstoppable. In the semi-final, she defeated last year’s world champion, Tatiana Chalazae from Russia, and then comprehensively outscored Farias by 31-14 to take the gold medal.
“Katie was really magnificent in India,” said Gary Keegan, who heads up Ireland’s high-performance boxing program. “This achievement is up there with all the great moments in Irish sport, and she totally deserves it as she has worked incredibly hard over the past few years.”
It later emerged that Taylor’s quest for the world title almost ended before a punch was thrown in anger. Because of a nose injury she had picked up in sparring before the championships in New Delhi, there was a doubt that she might not have been able to fight in the final.
“I was checked by a doctor and he told me before the final that I might not be allowed to fight,” Taylor explained. “But I told him the injury was no worse than it was when I arrived in India, and I was passed fit when I insisted I wasn’t going to miss the final.”
At a time when Bernard Dunne is making waves here with his drive towards a world title, it’s refreshing – no matter what your take on boxing is – that a woman has achieved recognition in the sport without having to walk scantily-clad around the ring between rounds.
O’Shea confirmed as Kingdom’s boss
A couple of Kerrymen were in the GAA news last week. After much to-ing and fro-ing, Pat O’Shea was cleared to succeed Jack O’Connor as the county’s football manager, then out of the mists, came P_id