Friday 18 May 2007

At the grand old age of 135, famous stadium makes way for a new era

GOODBYE, and thanks for the memories.

Over 130 years of sporting history came to an end yesterday as the wrecking ball finally moved into Dublin's Lansdowne Road stadium.

Terraces crumbled as diggers began demolishing the arena which has provided more than its fair share of sporting highlights since it opened in 1872.

Who could forget the Triple Crown wins of 1982, 1985 and 2004? Or the sight of 48,500 fans who squeezed into the ancient ground to watch the 2005 Heineken Cup quarter-final between Leinster and Leicester - a record for a non-test rugby match.

And while the soccer team have never clinched qualification for a major championships by winning in Dublin 4, fans of the beautiful game did see a young Diego Maradona play in 1978 against an Irish select XI before breaking into the Argentina team.

Watched by Sports Minister John O'Donoghue, the IRFU's Philip Browne and John Delaney from the FAI, workers began the task of clearing the site early yesterday morning.

The South Terrace was the first to go as part of a seven-month job to remove the pitch and stands from the capital's skyline. From the rubble will rise a 50,000 all-seater stadium, due to open for business by early 2010.

"This is another milestone in the long history of Lansdowne Road," said Mr Browne. "After the various delays, we are delighted to see this project get under way and I know that Irish rugby supporters will be proud of their new stadium when it is complete."

The ground hosted its first international rugby match in 1878 (between Ireland and England), and 30 years later sporting bodies were paying the princely sum of £50 a year to the Pembroke Estate to lease the ground.

When it reopens, some €365m will have been spent creating a new stadium that will be taller than Croke Park.

Demolition will continue until next December, but this month work will be begin on removing the South Terrace and the 'soft strip' - wood, lights, partitioning - of the West Stand.

The lower terrace and roof of the West Stand will also go, but the stand itself will remain in place until later in the summer.

No demolition works can be undertaken that might interfere with the operation of the DART, and the stand can only be removed during non-operating hours and by agreement with Iarnrod Eireann.

And while the wrecking ball is at work, contractors will begin pouring the foundations so the tight two-and-a-half-year construction deadline will be met.

Work on installing the new pitch will begin in April 2009, and commissioning of the new stadium will begin the following month.

This will see a series of small events - such as the restaurant and conference centre opening for business - so that systems can be checked to make sure everything is working properly.

Some small sporting events are also likely to be held on the new pitch.

There is just one small hurdle to overcome.

Residents are seeking a judicial review aimed at stopping the redevelopment. It will be heard next month.

Paul Melia
Irish Independent

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