IRFU President John Lyons was joined by An Taoiseach Brian Cowen TD to unveil a commemorative plaque pitchside and officially open the redeveloped Thomond Park Stadium, just minutes before the kick-off of Tuesday’s match between Munster and New Zealand.
Speaking at the official opening of the redeveloped Thomond Park, An Taoiseach Brian Cowen TD said: “I am pleased to be with you all this evening to officially open the new Thomond Park. I want to congratulate everyone involved in this ambitious, top-class redevelopment which is a most fitting home for Munster Rugby.
“Thomond Park has a special place in the psyche of all Irish sports fans. As a venue, down through the years, it has been for so many people a real theatre of dreams.
“This famous stadium has been the venue for some great Irish sporting triumphs and many of the world’s finest rugby footballers have played on its hallowed turf – a tradition we are all privileged to witness continuing here today.
“Tonight officially opens up a new history of this great stadium and I want to congratulate (IRFU President) John Lyons, (Munster Branch President) Nicky Comyn and (Stadium Chairman) Pat Whelan, who have shown great commitment and vision in driving this project forward and bringing it to completion.
“I also want to say well done on a fantastic job to the main contractors, PJ Hegartys. The entire stadium project took 21 months to complete and this work has been completed, in words I am always pleased to hear, on-time and in budget.”
He added: “Sport, at every level, is an integral part of Irish life. It plays a hugely important role in fostering a sense of achievement, a sense of place and a sense of social participation. And those decent values are intrinsic not just to rugby but to life in this city.
“The outpouring of grief at the tragic death of the young Garryowen player, Shane Geoghegan, just over a week ago demonstrates just how united the community is in Limerick. Everything possible is being done to bring those responsible to justice.”
The Taoiseach then quoted the words of Earle Kirton, a New Zealand out-half who had played at Thomond Park in 1963 in a tour match which Munster very nearly won.
“Kirton has distinct memories of that game and especially of, lets call it, the unique ambience generated by the Munster supporters.
“He said and I quote, ‘I knew damn well Munster weren’t anywhere near as good as the All Blacks in terms of individual skills.
‘But it wasn’t a day for skills. It was a day for guts…and there was something about the crowd, the way they got behind Munster.
‘I can’t remember what the ground looked like. I don’t think it was anything special. But I remember the crowd. I’ll never forget the crowd.
‘Later on somebody asked me what it was like? I said that after playing at Thomond Park I now knew what the Christians must have felt like in the Coloseum.’”