Sport Rugby

Tuesday 28 March 2017

Browne backs new home to drive future

Current IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne recalls fetching up with a bus-load of committee nabobs in 1994, to check out the union's 90-acre site at Newland's Cross.

One assumes they didn't hop on a 51B. "That's when the odyssey started for me," Browne recalled yesterday. Even then, the dreary grey monolith of Lans-downe Road was on life support.

The FAI were having their own jolly japes across the Atlantic in 1994, albeit that unlike their more austere oval ball cousins, the Association continued to flush all their hard-earned dollars down the drain, almost wearing their homelessness as a badge of dissident honour.

They continued this dubious existence, dog-eared rent book in one hand, begging bowl in the other, and all the while the IRFU city slickers attempted to wriggle free from the city slackers.

In 1996, they seemed set fair to take the plunge. They had plans at the ready to develop Lansdowne Road, there was the infamous Solas deal in the Phoenix Park which went belly-up and then we all landed on Planet Bertie to board the Abbottstown ego-trip.

There's been a fair amount of slips between cup and lip since then and Browne, although admitting that the route had been tortuous, expressed happiness at the eventual, belated outcome.

"Since then we've worked hard, with the FAI and the government, to get where we are now," said Browne, discreetly concealing whatever smug delight his august body must feel at having sold out their allocation of tickets, in stark comparison to their bedraggled co-tenants.

"There's been plenty of bumps on the way, but I think having walked around the place again, we have a fantastic facility and we have to thank the project management team. It's a great day for Irish sport, for soccer and for rugby."

However, when asked specifically about the thorny subject of 30,000 supporters being disenfranchised by the reduced capacity in an era when Irish rugby has never had it so good, Browne was firm.

"In terms of capacity, it's bang on for us in rugby, it really is. We've struggled at times to fill Croke Park, the clubs have taken the brunt of that.

"For us, ultimately, the aim of this facility is to become the financial engine to drive our sport. And I can say without hesitation that it will be the financial engine that will drive the sport for the next 40 years."

The IRFU have done their maths, bolstered by their sell-out offering of premium tickets and corporate hospitality.

Browne revealed, when expressing the hope that the Aviva would secure the 2013 Heineken Cup final, that there is little commercial difference for the ERC between holding the final at Twickenham, where 32,000 extra seats are available, and the new stadium at Lansdowne Road.

Still, that will be of minor consolation to those now permanently excluded from future rugby internationals, especially the annual jousts with the southern hemisphere giants, and the biennial visits of England and France.

Why else would there be an extant clamour to stage future Heineken Cup knock-out matches between Leinster and Munster at Croke Park?

The IRFU will certainly hope to kick to touch the misguided attempts of Eamon Ryan to attempt to blithely remove the association's ability to maintain their financial agreements with Sky television concerning ongoing Heineken Cup rights.

ring-fenced

"I don't really want to talk about that today," demurred Browne before he did, in fact, talk about it some more, although he wouldn't be drawn on how Ryan's proposal may affect ticket prices if the Heineken Cup was ring-fenced for terrestrial television.

"My views are well known. Minister Ryan is mistaken and to go down the route he is proposing would cause significant and possibly terminal damage to the professional game in this country.

"And the outcome of that will be terminal damage to the amateur game and at schools level. The reality is the price of tickets are dependent on the current market at any point in time and our needs in terms of ongoing revenues. But I don't think it's appropriate to speculate on that at this point."

Browne also expressed optimism that the clubs could also take advantage of the new stadium by possibly staging the annual club finals at the new headquarters.

And he dismissed speculation that a Ronan O'Gara -- or Jonathan Sexton -- goal-kick into the depleted old Havelock Square end may shatter the resplendent polycarbonate panels.

Irish Independent

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