THE TO-DO list was pretty long in Semple Stadium, but over eighteen months they ticked all the boxes Floodlights.
New turnstiles. New seating. Match-day hospitality area. New access roads. Pitch development.
Hang on. They didn’t unleash a digger on the playing field in Thurles?
Micheal Egan, secretary of the Semple Stadium committee, allays any fears: “The pitch is as it was - a new irrigation system has been put in, but the pitch is more or less as it was.”
Groundsman Philly Butler points to the extended perimeter, which is the extent of the interference.
“The sideline was here before, nearer the spectators, but now it’s been filled in and brought back a few metres to give a bit more room.”
Other changes are more dramatic. Behind the Ardán Ui Riain - the New Stand - there’s a new-look plaza, while the Killinan End has been updated as well. Then there are the floodlights.
“Those will be an equal standard to the floodlights in Croke Park,” says Tipperary County Board Chairman, John Costigan.
“We hope to have them up and running for the start of next year, maybe for the launch of the national leagues - tremendous credit is due to the stadium committee under Con Hogan for all their work.”
Work began on the Kinnane Stand (the Old Stand) side, concentrating on the concourse and facilities under the stand itself.
“We worked on that from September 2006 to April 2007,” says Micheal Egan.
“This last year we’ve been working on the Ardan Ui Riain, and you can see the work done on the road behind it, and the dome built next to the VEC.
“It’s win-win, because they’ll use that facility for indoor sports most of the week, while on match days we’ll use that for hospitality and functions.”
Egan points out that long-time visitors to Semple Stadium will have to make one small adjustment.
“There’s a new numbering system for people to be aware of - before we had the seating sections in letter form, A, B, C and so on, but now it’s a numbered system.
“From the Killinan end of the Kinnane Stand the stile numbers start at 1, with sections 101, 201 and so on behind those. That runs right around to section 127 over at the Killinan end of the new stand. It’s similar to Croke Park, but lads are used to the lettering system to work out where they’re seating, so they might want to be aware of that.”
Philly Butler points out that the majority of those coming to Thurles on Sunday for the Munster hurling semi-final will benefit from that new access road in particular.
“Limerick and Clare people will probably come in to Thurles along the Nenagh Road, and they can get into the stadium through the new access road instead of being crammed in at the gate near the greyhound stadium.”
Thurles Crokes AC own the field between the Tipperary Institute and the Killinan End, but GAA foresight decades ago was the key to facilitating the new development.
A narrow corridor of land leads from the main entrance for the Killinan End out to the Nenagh Road.
“The GAA bought this much, a strip about thirty metres across, off the Tipperary hurler John Maher back in the fifties,” says Butler. “It only cost a few bob at the time but it was vital for the building. It’ll provide access for the people coming in, so it’s a valuable piece of land nowadays. It’ll be tarred now and that’ll make it a lot handier for people, they won’t all be jammed in below at the gate by the dog track.”
Other improvements will make it easier for spectators to access the ground, particularly at that corner of the stadium.
“The new stiles will make it easier to get in, and there are more of them,” says Butler. “People will be able to get in directly to the Killinan End instead of having to walk all the way up behind the stand and out under the tunnel to the terraces, the way people used to.
“It was important to improve the Killinan End,” says chairman Costigan. “To make sure that patrons on the terraces would have the same facilities as those in the stands.
“Now there are new toilets, a food area and plenty of room for people to circulate before going onto the terrace. The greatest help will be that new access road for people up in the corner of the stand and the Killinan End.”
To raise funds to pay for the redevelopment Tipperary GAA chiefs have launched a new ticket scheme. The Premium Gold class will cost €2,000 and will entitle the owner to a pre-booked ticket in Ardán O Riain for five years for all Munster Championship games - at all levels - as well as all Tipperary county games and all Mid-Tipperary games, VIP & Corporate facilities for inter-county senior championship games in the new Semple Stadium Club Lounge, and one free parking pass for every two tickets purchased.
The Premium Silver class will cost €1,000 and will entitle the owner to a pre-booked ticket in Ardan O Riain for five years for all Munster Championship games, all Tipperary County games and all Mid-Tipperary games.
Tickets can be purchased by single payment or by standing order over two or four years.
“I’ve just bought my own tickets,” says Costigan. “Only a small number of Premier Gold tickets are available, but in corporate ticket terms they’re not expensive at all.
“If Limerick qualify for the Munster final we’ll have a chance to show off the new facilities sooner rather than later.
“If Clare win, in all probability the Munster final won’t be in Semple Stadium, we’ve agreed to play Clare in Limerick - but if they’re impressed by what they see next Sunday we might have a chat about moving it up to Thurles!”
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