“Press man here,” said the IRFU official as this scribe flashed his pass outside a temporary door leading to the mid and upper sections of the new East Stand at Thomond Park.
Another official was on hand to open the door, who offered a friendly “how’s it going” as the Munster team were just being led onto the pitch by stand-in skipper Ronan O’Gara.
A quick trot up the stairwell led into an expansive floor space which, one presumes, will form part of the hospitality section upon completion.
Under the lip of the East Stand’s upper tier which has, to coin some building jargon ‘flown up’ in recent months, the view onto the pitch is top class.
With the Munster Branch’s top brass situated a row in front of us, the press section is considerably more spacious (even at this early stage of construction) than its West Stand predecessor.
That there was still space for all the media, despite an unexpectedly large number of additional French journalists attending the game, speaks volumes for the Branch’s forward planning.
While it’s of little concern to the ticket-paying fan, journos will no longer have to wait for the crowd to filter out of the stand to get to the ‘mixed zone’ for post-match interviews.
Back in the pre-demolition days, some occasions did demand climbing past the TV cameramen and public address at the rear of the stand to nab those all-important quotes. Alas, the Krypton Factor-type element of a day’s work at Thomond Park is now banished to memory.
Two sections of the East Stand’s roof supports are fully in place, albeit currently propped up by iron frame scaffolding, while a crane behind the stand looms even larger than a lifted Paul O’Connell.
Both the east and west sides of the ground already feature its new terracing. The slightly steeper incline on both will lend to better viewing for the standing fans, a particular bonus for the vertically challenged among us.
It was odd viewing the match from the ‘opposite’ side of the ground. For all but a handful of games, I’ve positioned myself near the halfway line in the East Terrace, almost to the point where I felt like I had my Thomond Park ‘spot’.
On those odd days when the notebook has been decommissioned, I’ve found myself behind either goals, often, like a few thousand others, going pink knuckled in the numbing winter air.
Even on Sunday, as I noticed RTE Radio’s Michael Corcoran donning gloves while he and Donal Lenihan described events to the listening audience, I cursed my lack of foresight while rubbing my palms. Rest assured, I’ve taken a note for next match out.
Thankfully, a half-time cuppa and a Kit Kat (just two fingers mind you) did wonders for the circulation and left me a most happy camper come the game’s resumption.
While the atmosphere wasn’t exactly what regular visitors to Thomond Park have grown accustomed to over the years, it was far from muted either, the dry wit from the terraces proving arid as always.
Looking a year down the line, one imagined what it will be like to sit (or stand) here on a big rugby night.
On a Saturday evening, under the floodlights, with 26,000 fans packed into the place, the new Thomond Park is going to be something extra-special.
Credit must be given to Garret Fitzgerald and his colleagues for getting this project off the ground. The home of Munster Rugby will soon be as imposing a physical landmark as it is a mythical one.