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Last Updated: Friday, 22 December 2006, 11:48 GMT
The final curtain
By Jim Stokes
BBC Sport

It is very appropriate that Leinster faced Ulster on New Year's Eve in what was a re-run of the first rugby match played at the lush green surrounds of Lansdowne Road before the demolition men enter the arena.

Lansdowne Road, circa 2006
Demoliton men are due to start on the old stadium in the New Year

It was almost 130 years to the day that the two protagonists squared-up to each other with the home side claiming victory.

That game was re-enacted with Leinster claiming a 20-12 victory in the final match before the wrecking ball razes the concrete mausoleum in Dublin 4 in February.

Sunday's finale was meant to be a Magners League double header with Munster kicking off proceedings against Connacht earlier in the day.

But, so we are told, Leinster did not want those travel-anywhere fans of the Heineken Cup champions to take over proceedings.

Still, a Magners League record crowd of over 48,000 were delighted to wrap themselves up in a little bit of history and sample the unique atmosphere that only this old stadium has to offer.

Emotions came in spades, although not literally. The IRFU are hoping to 'market' the remnants of the old stadium including the pitch which means that punters can leave their spades and saws at home.

Blades of grass will be made available in key-rings while it is proposed to sell squares of the aul' sod in glass cases. Bits of Arsenal's old Highbury ground was similarly auctioned off raking in a nearly 500,000.

LANSDOWNE ROAD HISTORY
1872: Ground purchased by Henry Dunlop
1876: First rugby match: Leinster v Ulster
1876: First international athletics match
1878: First international rugby match: Ireland v England
1906: IRFU purchased lease
1971: First international football match: Rep of Ireland v Italy
1974: IRFU bought Lansdowne Road freehold
1981: Biggest football attendance: 48,500, Rep of Ireland v France
1983: East Stand built
1995: Floodlights erected
2006: Last rugby match: Leinster v Ulster
2009: Projected date for new stadium opening

It was the vision of Henry Wallace Doveton Dunlop that started it all off back in 1872. The Trinity College Dublin graduate rented the piece of ground from the Earl of Pembroke for 70 a year.

He was a brilliant young athlete who was secretary of the Irish Championship Athletics Club and who obviously had an entrepreneurial touch.

Dunlop wanted to create a purpose-built sporting venue and the first part of his dream was realised when the world's first international athletics meeting outside the Olympics was held there in 1876 - on a cinder track.

After that, cricket, croquet, three football pitches and facilities for archery and lawn tennis were available to those who could jingle a few bob in their pocket.

Dunlop then hired the then named ICAC ground in 1878 to the Irish Football Union (later to be named the IRFU) for a share of the expenses and the game receipts when the 20-a-side teams of Leinster and Ulster slugged it out in a downpour drenching the thousand or so spectators.

In the same year, the first international was then played at the ground with Dunlop hiring it out for 5, and half of any profit over 50 after the deduction of expenses.

Lansdowne Road, circa 2009
The new Lansdowne Road stadium is due to be finished in 2009

Ireland and England had the distinction of playing a 15-a-side international on 11 March with the raiders in fancy white jerseys and natty long trousers winning the day by two goals and a try to nil.

In keeping with the style of the day, 13 of the Ireland team had moustaches!

Things meandered along when in 1904 the then 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.

That's where it all started to take off with the shrewdest pieces of business acumen in Irish sport. The IRFU signed a new lease for 50 years paying 50 a year ground rent, finally purchasing the freehold in 1974. That piece of greensward is now worth approximately 600m.

The world's oldest international sports stadium has witnessed some great occasions, and in the future will feature many more under its continuous curvilinear-shaped stand enclosing all four sides.

The new all singing and dancing 50,000-all seater stadium is expected to be ready for the 2009 autumn internationals.



SEE ALSO
Lansdowne Road plans get approval
31 Jul 06 |  Internationals
Snag threatens Lansdowne project
16 Feb 06 |  Internationals
New Lansdowne Road blueprint
12 Dec 03 |  Irish


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