The Regional Sports Centre in Waterford saw a large attendance last Friday night for the first major Munster rugby game to be hosted in a Waterford Stadium. Previous Munster teams have played some friendly matches in Ballinakill, the Waterpark grounds over the years. However, the profile of rugby has increased hugely with the Magners (Celtic) League and the Heineken (European Club Rugby) Cup. The professional era has seen a new standard in rugby and it has also become a mainstream sport with massive interest in televised games. Waterford would not be a rugby stronghold like Cork or Limerick as we have not had many players at senior level on the teams since Ben Cronin over a decade ago.
But to have the current Munster ‘B’ team here that plays in the new British and Irish Cup was a great distinction for the Waterford venue. With a crowd of over 4,000 at the game, it proved to be the largest attended rugby game ever in Waterford. This may look small compared to hurling which is the number one sport in the county, but is still quite considerable. The game also promoted rugby on the eastern side of Munster. There was a huge interest from young fans but what a pity that the referee in the second half blew so much for infringements and slowed down the game.
We listened to accents at the match and could hear people from Cork and Tipperary, who hopefully stayed around and spent some money in local eateries, even McDonalds did a special promotion there. The Ramada Hotel hosted the visiting Nottingham team, a club that had some famous players in the past such as Dusty Hare. They even brought a small sporting entourage.
Waterford Airport proved to be a key element to the match as the team was able to fly directly in with Aer Arann from Birmingham. Smaller Munster games that do not suit Thomond in Limerick could come here, especially when the reconstruction of the Musgrave Park in Cork takes place. We really can make the case of how suitable Waterford would be for a Magners League game.
Tipperary visitors would find Waterford an easy venue to get to. Many new clubs have expanded in that county in the last decade and the Premier County could be the source of top players in the future.
Waterford has had many outstanding inter-provincial players at Under-21 level and at Under-18s playing and the continuance of this trend will be an objective of the sports administrative bodies. We understand that the Chief Executive of Munster Rugby, Garrett Fitzgerald, was very happy with the RSC.
A further game in the British Irish cup would be a boost. The players may not be household names but they did play great rugby at times and were a joy to watch in the first half. Full marks to the local Munster men like John O Neill and Neil Kenneally who have been working on bringing this Munster team project to Waterford for more than a year. Full marks also to the City Council for getting behind it and organising it so well. Beidh la ann aris.