Only value for money can shake some life into our new stadium
IS there any further point in decrying the manifold problems that have beset the gleaming new stadium in the heart of Dublin 4?
The bright new structure is shoehorned into too tight a space, making a completely smooth match-day operation a practical impossibility. It has a horrible name and one end looks as if it has been temporarily borrowed from the Carlisle Grounds in Bray. Alas, however, we are stuck with the damn thing for the next half-century or so.
You could probably write a cogent political or cultural thesis on this modern Republic with exclusive reference to its sporting facilities. Is there any second city in the developed world, for example, that offers as its sporting jewel such a soulless, decrepit structure as Páirc Uí Chaoimh? Does somebody have to be seriously injured or killed in the clogged tunnel beneath the main stand before somebody decides it isn't fit to stage important games?
That isn't to have a go at the GAA. It was that organisation, after all, which had the foresight to plough ahead with plans to redevelop their flagship stadium while their brethren in the IRFU were content to sit on its stash and the FAI was busy squandering the wealth it had harvested in the early '90s. The hopelessness now of seeing the country enjoy the top-class facilities that should be there by right brings the failures of those years into a starker light.
You'd have enough disasters to fill a 10-chapter book: Bertie's preposterous dream of building a monument to himself in Abbotstown, the drawn-out saga leading to the inevitable opening of Croke Park, the shameful failure to honour our athletics tradition with even a modest indoor arena in Santry, the madness of Eircom Park, the bitter dispute over Tallaght Stadium and so on. And who could forget the swimming arena with the leaking roof?
The ideal, of course, was Croke Park as a quasi-National Stadium, still crucially owned by the GAA. But the unfortunately tribal nature of our sporting identities made that a non-runner here. The next best was a multi-purpose venue on a greenfield site in the suburbs, as is the norm in most European cities. But then most European cities also enjoy public transport and proper facilities which here would entail a 65B bus from the city centre to an area with no open shops and just one open pub.
Maybe this is all old hat now. We have what we have. And for all its faults, there's nothing yet to suggest the new stadium lacks a certain spirit associated with the old, ramshackle Lansdowne Road. The idea of the old ground as a fortress bears less scrutiny when you consider all the wooden spoons Irish rugby amassed over the years and the fact that, as Ireland manager, Brian Kerr felt the atmosphere inside the stadium was so lacking that he had to issue a clarion call to fans to get behind the team.
The point is, ultimately, that you have to make people want to come and charging them a king's ransom for the kind of fare they witnessed against South Africa last week, or for any game involving Giovanni Trapattoni's football team, is going to lead to issues. If you can't promise entertainment then you need to guarantee results and, in the absence of both, you get the flat, lifeless atmosphere that pertained last week.
Maybe the message will start to seep in soon. It won't placate most but in apologising last week for its insane ticket pricing policy, the IRFU was at least man enough to admit its errors, unlike those, say, who helped run the country into the ground over the last decade or more. The FAI deserves credit too for reducing prices for today's Cup final and have reaped the reward with sales in excess of 30,000, a throwback to the days when football was an affordable lifeline for people who had time on their hands but little money.
The sporting bodies lost the run of themselves, for sure, but in such small acts of kindness, there are at least signs of a more humble, more encouraging road ahead.