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Tuesday 17 July 2018

A great opportunity for Irish football - but let's hope that we qualify ourselves

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill with FAI Chief Executive John Delaney during a tour of the Aviva Stadium
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill with FAI Chief Executive John Delaney during a tour of the Aviva Stadium

IN Irish football circles, the year 2020 has been on the radar for some time.

Initially, it was for different reasons - with John Delaney setting it as a target for the FAI to be debt free from their commitment to the Aviva Stadium.

He subsequently pushed that date back, but the FAI chief executive will be hoping that bringing a portion of the European Championships to the Ballsbridge venue in that calendar year will accelerate the mission.

Delaney stressed yesterday that the real financial winner after UEFA gave us the green light will be the Dublin economy.

However, this is a big chance for football to capitalise on a laudable achievement and make it pay in a competitive sporting market.

That task will be far easier if Ireland succeed in qualifying, thus meaning they feature in two of the group games in Dublin 4. The importance of that cannot be underestimated.

Nothing unites the country quite like a major tournament appearance for our footballers.

When the going is good, they are the biggest show in town. The summer 'Reeling in the Years' repeats were peppered with scenes from Stuttgart, Genoa, New York, Ibaraki and other memorable nights. An opportunity to recreate this experience in the capital of Ireland is an exciting proposition.

For the FAI, the profit could be generated by the feverish build-up that would drive sales in a number of areas. Promotions geared towards the main event could potentially spread the wealth to areas that really need it if the authorities take the lead.

And what if Ireland miss out? For some context, we can look to the staging of the 2011 Europa League final in the Aviva.

From an organisational point of view, it was a resounding success. However, it is hardly unfair to suggest that the relatively unglamorous all-Portugese pairing of Porto and Braga meant that the occasion didn't really linger too long in the public consciousness.

Euro 2020 without Ireland could end up in a similar category, with the vagaries of an expanded 24-team competition meaning there is no guarantee of landing a really high-profile clash and associated benefits. Luck of the draw becomes a major factor. It would still be fascinating for the football fan, a historic opportunity for the younger generation to watch the early phase of a massive sporting event on their doorstep.

But compared to the possibilities that could be opened up with Ireland in the mix, that vision almost seems anti-climactic.

To paraphrase an observation that was once aimed at UEFA President Michel Platini from an RTE studio: Dublin 2020 without Irish qualification would be a good experience, but possibly not a great one.

Now that the stakeholders in the bidding process have done their job, the long-term focus in the football department has to be in ensuring that we don't miss our own party.

Irish Independent

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