Oldest rugby club in Ireland takes step into the modern age

Dublin University to play on new semi-synthetic pitch in College Park

Dublin University take on Old Wesley during an Ulster Bank League match at College Park in 2012. Photograph:  Billy Stickland/Inpho

Dublin University take on Old Wesley during an Ulster Bank League match at College Park in 2012. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

The oldest rugby club in Ireland, Dublin University, founded in 1854, will train on their new semi-synthetic pitch in College Park on Thursday for the first time.

After 18 months of waiting and training at Monkstown Rugby Club in Sandymount, the students will step into the modern age after years of playing on a historic grass pitch that was no longer fit for purpose.

One of the most popular venues in the country and uniquely situated in the city centre, College Park is closely protected by the university authorities.

But it had been generally agreed that the original surface had become alternately hard and a quagmire in the winter with the College deciding to modernise the whole facility. Floodlights are expected to be installed around Christmas time.

The surface is different to the synthetic back pitch at Lansdowne in that it has a synthetic mesh with real grass growing through. All of the Irish players to have passed through from James Cecil Parke to Hugo McNeill, Brendan Mullin and Jamie Heaslip would have trained and played on the original grass, which runs along the path that divides the rugby grounds from the soccer, cricket, athletics and hockey facilities.

Now with a young team, the better surface with potential for a top of the ground game rather than grinding out scores in the mud, is expected to suit the club’s age profile.

“We’d been looking to do it for a while,” said rugby director Tony Smeeth. “And we train there tomorrow for the first time. The pitch had become too hard and also a quagmire.

“I remember two years ago we lost two games and both of those were at home, one was after the New Year and it was just mud. We left it for 18 months to allow the roots dig in deep and when the floodlights go in we will have a state of the art facility.”

It is not the first piece of synthetic surface in the College Park grounds as the cricket club have a mat wicket, although it is not used for senior matches.

The rugby club have been given 200 hours each season of training and playing on the new pitch and will continue to use facilities at Monkstown. The official opening takes place on Saturday in College Park.

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