With the sun blazing down on a splendid looking Turner’s Cross for yesterday evening’s international between the Republic of Ireland and Belarus, one couldn’t help but feel not only pride in being Irish, but pride in being from Cork.
The old ground has seen some great days in the past; from Munster Senior Rugby Cup finals (where Éamon de Valera became the only President to score a penalty at the ’Cross), to Ireland B’s defeat of England ahead of Italia 90, up to that famous night in 2005 when Cork City bid farewell to the ‘Shed’ with the league trophy and most of the players in the stand!
It’s finest occasion, however, must have been last night’s game, hosting only the third senior international seen on the banks of the Lee, and it was a particularly proud day for those who worked so hard to make it happen.
“The pitch is in great condition” said Shane Burke, a proud Dripsey man and one of the ground staff who worked over the last number of weeks to get the pitch up to scratch because “when the FAI came down first it was quite poor, there wasn’t much growth and there were a lot of games on it. But we put together a programme and it all worked out in the end!
“It was cut every day, sometimes twice a day, seven times a week; a lot of fertiliser and water was spread, the sidelines returfed and all the divots repaired.”
Both Martin O’Neill and Cork-born Dave Meyler praised the quality of the pitch, the Irish manager in particular highlighting its excellent condition.
“They were out yesterday and they were really happy with it so it’s nice that they’re recognising our hard work.”
It’s not just the pitch that has been worked on. The grounds in general have received a facelift, with seats polished, walls repainted, and a brand new sign outside the main gate. One of those volunteering was Liam McCarthy, groundsman at Turner’s Cross for over 20 years before retiring, and the man who famously signed Irish assistant manager Roy Keane for City at under-age level before an administrative mistake saw the Mayfield native sign for rivals Cobh Ramblers a few days later. “It’s great for Cork, great to have it down here, and then with the weather as well everything is right for it!
“They’ve had fellas working here for the last month, and you saw the pitch a few weeks ago and it wasn’t in great shape with the weather we had. But it’s amazing the amount of work that’s gone into it and it looks fantastic.
“I remember when I was here supporting Cork Celtic. There used be great city rivalry, and if Celtic were playing there Hibs lads would come down supporting the opposing team!
“They’re a good bunch down in Cobh as well; they mightn’t be in the city but League of Ireland teams around here should be getting bigger crowds. It absolutely is reward for all the hard work that people have put in since those days and now the ground looks really well.”
An excellent crowd is also expected for the second big Turner’s Cross match-up this week, when league-leaders Dundalk travel to second placed Cork City in a crucial game in the Airtricity League title race.
Setting up stall to sell tickets yesterday ahead of the Ireland game was City vice-chairman John Kennedy, who says the spirit of volunteerism has spread across the Cork footballing community. “Once this game got announced the Cork City volunteers got in touch immediately to help out.
“I think it’s a great occasion that we have a full international here at Turner’s Cross. It’s a fantastic place to be and the game is fantastic for the city and county.”
The game last night saw City fans out in droves, aided by a draw for FORAS members who have a share in the Leeside club. Donned in green and white they helped create a memorable atmosphere on Leeside.
“We’re really proud this game is down here, we know Turner’s Cross on League of Ireland night is a place to be and this place will be rocking again this Friday against Dundalk.”
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