Saturday 20 January 2018

It's great to be at home again

HEADS held high and chests puffed out, we introduced the new Lansdowne Road to the world last night.

We've lost plenty in the four years since football was last played at the famous address but our love of shiny, new things evidently remains. Proud as punch, we are.

"Hey, look at us," the beautiful new €410m arena screamed. "We've still got it, honestly."

What we undoubtedly had last night was a passably entertaining game between Manchester United and an Airtricity League XI -- but there was little doubting what was the star attraction.

"Well, we've been following the development of the stadium in the papers almost religiously for the last few years, so it's great to finally catch a game at it," said Evan O'Rourke from Finglas.

"And even though the tickets are a bit pricey at €45, it was always going to be easier to get one tonight that it will be for the big games."

Ah, yes, there are gripes.

While there is something about new stadia that generally causes us to lose the run of ourselves -- "Built on greatness," the announcer solemnly declared last night -- few football fans are of the opinion that Lansdowne is perfect.

That's in stark contrast to Croker, which, in the eyes of many GAA fans, is simply flawless.

The most common concern is the 50,000 capacity, given that the Ireland team was able to attract 70,000-plus to its temporary home on the northside.

The cramped surroundings in Dublin 4 also mean that the former north terrace is just one tier, compared to the four tiers on the other sides.

"It looks a bit silly," said Rachel Brady (11) from Leitrim.

She added: "It looks like Croke Park because there are just three sides, really."

It does seem something of a recurring theme in our big arenas and an extra 10,000 seats for the taxpayer's sizeable payout would obviously have been ideal.

But -- even if some wags claim the roof resembles a bedpan because of that single tier -- the roof is actually a thing of beauty as you approach the ground.

And the jump in facilities -- the DART and the food, the dressing rooms and the unobstructed views -- from the previous version is simply colossal.

"It's something we can be really proud of when the big teams come around," said Dave Whelan, from Celbridge, Co Kildare.

"The last stadium had plenty of history but it was embarrassingly out of date. And we will keep the history."

And, of course, make some more.

United's Ji-Sung Park made the record books last night, scoring the first goal after 13 minutes. There will be few as bizarre.

The United boys had arrived in Dublin Airport yesterday morning, before making their way to Carton House in Kildare by bus, arriving just after 1pm.

Wayne Rooney, 'fresh' from a widely reported late night on the Manchester tiles over the weekend, pushed past the 100 or so fans in attendance. Meanwhile, manager Alex Ferguson -- fresh, no doubt, from reading him the riot act -- stopped for autographs and photos.

The players had a light warm-up session in the afternoon, before making their way to Dublin 4.

The team sheet didn't disappoint, with Rooney and Michael Owen leading the line.

And there was no question who most in the 40,000 crowd had come to see -- after taking in the view, of course.

"The acoustics are something else," said Catherine Hogan from Limerick.

"Even though there wasn't a full house, the sound seemed to be amplified when they were chanting for Rooney and it was held in by the roof much better than at Croke Park.

"And the stands are so close to the stands that it's cosy."

It was very easy to imagine this being a really special place when an important qualifier comes around and a pumped-up Irish team is chasing a win in the rain.

Russia in October? The countdown begins.

Irish Independent

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