Revamped facilities herald new Con era

A century after the last senior rugby international on Leeside, the Ireland Club XV takes on England Counties in Cork this evening.

Revamped facilities herald new Con era

Ireland played France in the Mardyke back in 1913, but one hundred years on the facilities will be a good deal better at a revamped Cork Constitution complex at Temple Hill.

The club will unveil its new €1.2 million development for the game, a large-scale rebuilding project that was turned around remarkably quickly.

“Building began in January 2012 and the redevelopment was completed for the beginning of the 2012-3 season,” says Tony O’Connor.

“It was funded through our own capital fund, significant Lottery funding, a local developer and crucially, 125 members putting €1,000 each into the pot as well. That was a very significant contribution and as a result of all of that, the debt is now very manageable.”

The bar has been modernised, the large hall is now a significant improvement on its predecessor and there’s a professional-level gym in place for the club’s players. That’s bricks and mortar, though: a sports club is a lot more than that.

“A lot of clubs are in debt around the country, and that was the worry here,” says O’Connor. “If we built the new facility, what would suffer as you repaid a huge debt? We wanted to ensure that the rugby wouldn’t suffer, and that hasn’t occurred.”

They’ve got the evidence to prove it. Last weekend the first team beat Garryowen, the seconds beat Dolphin, the U21s beat Waterpark and the J2s also won: “So our four senior teams won, and we also have the Munster Senior and Junior Cups in the clubhouse at the moment.

“It’s also important to us to reach out to the community, and we have 500 kids here on a Saturday morning.

“Everyone’s welcome. With the new hall we have some of the mothers in at a fitness class while their kids are playing outside, which is great.”

When O’Connor says the club is keen to get people through the gates, it’s not just rhetoric. He can point to plenty of activities on the premises to entice people down to Temple Hill.

“We’re very focused on family attractions, and the clubhouse and hall is a huge part of that, as they’re far more amenable to that than the old facility. The new amenity will benefit the local community, with the fitness class, there’s bridge, and parties, which wouldn’t have been held in the old hall.

“For instance, we had a French night in the hall, with local businesspeople suppliers talking about French food and wine and so on.

“Of course we’re using it for pre-match lunches as well, and with the new kitchen facilities people are really enjoying those.

“We’re getting over 100 people attending those lunches because the food is great and the surroundings are excellent — this weekend we’re hoping for a good crowd to come down and watch the England game on Sunday.”

Before that, though, there’s tonight’s game. O’Connor points to a strong local flavour to the Irish team: Gerry Hurley, the captain, is a Constitution player, while the pack features Frank Cogan, formerly of Constitution and now playing for Clontarf; coach Conor Twomey is also a Cork native and a former Con player.

The game kicks off at 7.30pm, but O’Connor points out that there’ll be plenty going on from 5.30pm.

“We’ll have dignitaries — the Lord Mayor, the two bishops and so on, politicians and all our former British and Irish Lions will be here too — apart from Ronan O’Gara, for obvious reasons.

“There’s a marquee, and while the gardaí will be on hand for traffic purposes, that isn’t really an issue when we have All-Ireland league games, or even when Cork are playing in Páirc Uí Rinn next door.

“But we’ll also have a security firm on hand all through the night, so if people need to leave their cars here there’ll be a security presence to look after them.

“The night is all about Cork, and we’re hoping that people come down and enjoy the evening here.”

And that it won’t be 100 years before the next senior international on Leeside.

Picture: Cork Con head of communications Tony O’Connor beside the new clubhouse at Temple Hill. Picture: Denis Scannell

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