Bales are the last straw for Thomond Park

THOMOND PARK chiefs last night revealed they may again cover the pitch with 140 bales of straw to ensure the pitch is playable for Munster’s Heineken Cup clash with Ospreys on Sunday.

Stadium bosses took the step last week to combat the freezing temperatures ahead of the province’s Magners League clash with Cardiff Blues on Saturday evening.

Yet Thomond Park Stadium Director, John Cantwell, last night admitted that the procedure may be reintroduced due to the continued cold snap in and around the famous venue.

But why straw? “We were left with little choice last week when we got the forecast of sub zero temperatures.

“The best frost covers in the world couldn’t cope with what was coming so we had a chat with agronomist, Eddie Connaughton, our grounds man Nick Green and our operations manager, Colm Moran.

“They came up with a plan based on getting some straw onto the pitch which was a concept used in Scotland and Ireland years ago to protect fields. We started out with 40 bales of straw but that was too thin. So we ended up using 140 bales.

“It was a huge success. Not alone was the straw protecting the ground from frost, it was also generating its own heat.

“We had a pitch inspection then on Friday morning and it passed with flying colours — two days earlier we couldn’t put a tee into it.”

Cantwell revealed the straw was sourced in Limerick and Cork.

“On the day of the match we brought in a bailer and five tractors with wide tyres.

“We had one straightening the straw into rows, one baling and the others drawing the bales out to the back pitch. We had then a team of guys with leaf blowers following the lads baling and cleaning up any excess straw. It was a huge logistical job and we just about made it.”

Though Met Eireann forecasts an improvement in weather conditions by the weekend, plummeting night time temperatures means that the straw remains on standby for another week.

“The straw has been off the pitch since Saturday as we have to give the pitch some natural exposure. But given the conditions we are ready to go to put the straw back down tomorrow ahead of the Heineken Cup game at the weekend. The Heineken Cup is a huge competition and it is vital that everything is in perfect condition for Sunday. It is a very real possibility that we will have to put the straw out again. The forecast is for freezing overnight temperatures.”

Cantwell also revealed that Munster chiefs have fielded calls from a number of clubs asking for advice on their work of the past week. But for those on the look out for 140 bales of straw, they may have to think again.

Cantwell laughed: “John Hayes was asking us about the bales after the game. I think it is a case that he will be more than happy to take them off our hands. That would really mean it is The Bull’s Field.’’

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