Horror group can't stop fans' scramble for coveted tickets
THE scramble for Euro 2012 tickets kicked off last night with a glamour draw that pitted Ireland against world and European champions Spain.
It may be a horror group with Italy and Croatia added to the mix, but the competition promises to be a memorable one for Irish fans starved of a major tournament for 10 years.
If there is one thing that might dampen the mood, it is the astronomic prices for hotel accommodation and flights.
But for now at least, Ireland will be gripped by excitement, itching to get on the road again.
Yesterday, following the draw in Kiev, Giovanni Trapattoni was upbeat despite the prospect of playing his home country.
"There's no denying it has been a tough draw," he admitted.
"We have to play with the same mentality -- obviously all the teams are very difficult.
"We have to think in football that all is possible."
That will certainly be on the minds of the fans who have followed their team through years of desolate, underachieving qualification battles. We have finally arrived.
But if you're going you'd better start saving -- the transport and hospitality sectors have already begun jacking up their prices.
Last night transport and accommodation costs looked set to bring a generation of football fans back down to earth -- a jolting reminder of the commercial realities of sporting dreams.
One-way flights to Poznan for the Croatia game were coming in at €175, and a room for the same night in a three-star hotel costs €439.
Trap's boys in green will be based in Poland for the duration of their three group matches.
And with Ireland playing Croatia in Poznan on June 10, Spain in Gdansk on June 14 and Italy on June 18, it is possible to take a group stage holiday over eight days.
All of the matches kick off at 7.45pm Irish time, which falls nicely for the bars back home.
With such quality competition on offer, particularly Spain, there will be huge demand for tickets and a guarantee that they will exchange hands for prices far in excess of face value.
The FAI have urged fans not to buy from touts, and while the authorities in Poland will no doubt do something to try and stifle black market activity, there will still be thousands frantically searching.
"People are literally just booking flights but it's so hard to know (how many will travel)," an FAI spokesman said last night.
"There could be lads deciding over a pint tonight to go to Poland and we wouldn't know that. Some people are going to drive over as well.
"There will always be tickets available but it wouldn't be encouraged to get them through touts.
"Obviously the important thing here is no one will get a ticket from the Irish fans' (allocation) who hasn't been to games with us on the road in the past. The loyal fans are there first."
Things will get tougher again if Ireland progress to the quarter finals where allocations will shrink and demand will surge.
UEFA are not wrong when they predict that we will have one of the best supports at the tournament, but just 5,000 seats will be designated to them in the knockout stages.
Instead, because of the logistical problems associated with moving fans between Poland and Ukraine, the football governing body has proposed the cap in order to fill the stadia with locals.