Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Downe memory lane

And so the curtain has fallen for the last time on the old stadium. And appropriately, it was Leinster and Ulster who signed off almost 130 years of rich sporting history at Lansdowne Road.

For it was the two Provinces who contested the first ever game played at the Dublin 4 venue in the 1875-76 season in what was then a 20-a-side fledgling version of rugby football.

A few years earlier, Trinity College, Dublin graduate Henry Wallace Doveton Dunlop had first rented the piece of ground from the Earl of Pembroke for £70 a year.

Dunlop, then secretary of the Irish Championship Athletics Club, had the dream of creating a purpose-built sporting venue.

That dream was realised when the first international athletics meet outside of the Olympics was staged there that year and subsequently facilities for cricket, croquet, football pitches, archery and lawn tennis were constructed.

The Irish Football Union (which later became the IRFU) hired the ground and in the same season as Leinster took on Ulster, Ireland and England had the distinction of playing a 15-a-side international on March 11, with an easy win for the visitors.

Then in 1904 the IRFU treasurer Harry Shepperd personally acquired the lease of Lansdowne Road from Dunlop and after his sudden death a couple of years later, the Union paid a representative of his family £200 for his interest.

The IRFU signed a new lease for 50 years paying £50 a year ground rent and finally purchasing the freehold in 1974.

Considering the site is now worth over 600million euro, that has to be seen as one of the most profitable deals in Irish or British sport!

The final whistle yesterday afternoon however brought to an end that era.

Next month the bulldozers will roll in as part of the first stages of the 380m euro redevelopment to construct a state-of-the-art facility to bring Lansdowne Road into the 21st century in a partnership with the Football Association of Ireland.

That is for the future.

For now though it is only right to remember some of the red letter days at the old ground. The list is inexhaustible. Ireland's 10-10 draw with New Zealand in 1973 and narrow defeat thanks to a late Don Clarke penalty 10 years earlier, the victories over Australia in 1958, 2004 and 2006 and memorable wins over England in 1993 and 2001 all spring to mind. Here are six of the best.

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