'Staff here are very aware of what happened in Saipan' - Training ground in immaculate condition ahead of Euro 2016 campaign
Published 29/05/2016 | 15:33
When the staff at Mountbaron stadium in Versailles heard that the Republic of Ireland squad with assistant manager Roy Keane would be using their pitch for Euro 2016 training they could be forgiven for feeling a little nervous.
After all, there are still some groundsmen on a small Japanese island who probably shudder to this day when they hear the Corkman's name.
But with just two weeks to go before the start of Euro 2016 the facilities in France were looking immaculate.
Independent.ie visited the stadium in the heart of Versailles where the finishing touches were underway.
One official explained that there will be no repeat of 2002 when the then Irish captain Roy Keane left the squad's camp in Saipan after claiming the training pitch "looked like a car park".
The official said: “Staff here are very aware of what happened in Saipan and Roy Keane.
“Every effort is being made to ensure that this does not happen again. We know Roy and Martin are coming and they will settle for nothing short of perfection.”
Located just five minutes from the team hotel, The Trianon Palace, the Stade de Montbauron is home to sixth division side FC Versailles '78. The club has a history of producing big players including Hatem Ben Harfa and Thierry Henry.
At the grounds, preparations are almost finished ahead of the Republic of Ireland squad visit. Our exclusive pictures show that the pitch is in immaculate condition while posters and banners have been erected around the stadium welcoming the Irish squad to the city.
One man who has played an integral role in the preparations is Deputy Mayor of Versailles for Sports Jean-Marc Fresnel.
He told Independent.ie that the town and the Trianon Palace previously hosted the English rugby team for the 2007 Rugby World Cup and was a favourite venue for the Dutch international football team.
However Irish management chose the venue after Holland failed to qualify for the tournament.
On the streets locals are acutely aware that the Irish are coming but there is very little evidence of this.
Mr Fresnel explained that this is for security reasons: “Because of the attacks at Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan the security was really enforced here.
“So unfortunately we haven't been able to do a lot of banners or animation in the town.”
Despite this the politician moved to reassure supporters and the team that there is no danger.
“It's very safe here. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't safe. The tournament would not be happening if it was not safe.”
One place where fans will see the tricolour flying is Versailles’s only Irish bar, ‘O'Paris’ which is located just yards from the Palace of Versailles and a five-minute walk from the team hotel. Although it isn't owned or run by Irish nationals staff there have embraced the culture.
Bar manager Arnaud Barré, who previously played out-half at underage level for Racing Metro, said his door will be open every day for the Irish team and fans alike.
“I hope the players will be coming here but I don't know. We have only one Irish pub in Versailles.
“We have Guinness, we have Kilkenny and some Bulmers so we are ready for start the Euros in the beginning of June.
“Every Irishman who wants to drink a beer and see the match we welcome them to the pub.”
“We have not put our decorations up because it is still two weeks away, but we will. We will have some animation. We start to decorate the pub with many flag of Ireland.”
Asked if he would be cheering for the Boys in Green Mr Barré laughed: “For the business I am for France but I love Ireland and I play rugby in Ireland sometimes. Dublin is a good town and we love Guinness. So good luck for Ireland.”
His sentiments were echoed by Stefano Kharovni who is originally from Versailles but has been living in Australia for the last 20 years.
Stefano was back in the city this week to visit family and the surf instructor explained that people in the town are delighted it is the Irish staying and not another team.
“Yes they will get a very fantastic reception, people in Versailles are laid back and very nice and they will love to have Irish people training in their nice small stadium in Versailles.”
He continued: “The Irish fans are popular because they always have fun. They obviously like a drink but they can handle their drink, not like the English who always want to fight. The Irish like to sing and dance. They have got that Celtic blood and we love them.”