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Sunday 25 February 2018

Robbie and son are so proud as new stadium is finally christened

Robbie Keane with his son Robbie Jnr on to the pitch to line out with the
Ireland team at Lansdowne Road
Robbie Keane with his son Robbie Jnr on to the pitch to line out with the Ireland team at Lansdowne Road
Republic of Ireland captain Robbie Keane with his son Robbie Jnr
Claudine Palmer watches her husband take their son

Ciaran Byrne

THEY gave it fancy glass panels and white steel tubing, smart cafes, decent food, swish toilets and of course, THAT new name. But last night it was still good old crowd-rocking Lansdowne Road as it hosted the first Ireland international for three years.

The roar just before kick-off was loud, but not enough to shatter the stadium's 4,251 polycarbonate panels (they boasted about this kind of stuff in the programme).

Incredibly, almost 5,000 empty green seats were visible at kick-off, a troubling sight on a supposedly marquee night for the FAI at the spanking new 50,000-seat venue.

Still, Giovanni Trapattoni, watching on TV from his Mater Hospital bed, would have been pleased to hear those in attendance giving it socks.

Alas, his first game in charge at the new stadium ended in a 1-0 defeat to Argentina.


Who knows what Robert Keane (15 months) thought of it all as he emerged on to the pitch with his dad. You wouldn't get this kind of racket in a creche. But just in case anything went wrong, mum Claudine was there to keep an eye on things.

Robbie himself looked a little startled by the reception as he took the acclaim to mark his 100th cap, with his son in his arms.

Aviva might have bought the naming rights but taxpayers sank €191m into the venue and the fans are still fond of the old name.

"There's the name plate -- it's still Lansdowne Road to me," cried Damian McGrath as he rounded Shelbourne Road just after 6pm.

"It hasn't changed a bit," he joked as he and his son David (11) waited for a friend to arrive with the precious tickets.

"I've never been to Lansdowne Aviva," said David, as he successfully fused the new and the old.

No doubt the marketing people would have been delighted, such has been their Herculean efforts to ram home the new name. All around Dublin 4, posters proclaimed the new dawn under various phrases: "You are eight drop goals from the Aviva" read one. "You are 13 bullet headers from the Aviva" read another.

But by the time the stadium announcer said, for the fifth time, "Let's give a big Aviva welcome. . ." it was all getting a bit much.

Hilariously, a live big screen shot of Johnny Giles, sitting with UEFA chief Michel Platini and FAI boss John Delaney, triggered a bout of fierce booing. Cheering erupted when the screen returned with Giles now the sole focus of the camera.

After a brutal afternoon downpour, cloud gave way to brightness and Garda Charles Cavanagh was hoping it would stay that way. The 29-year-old finds it easier to play his trumpet that way. No boring point duty for him last night, Gda Cavanagh was one of the lucky few to walk out on the immaculate new pitch.

"I just hope the rain holds off," said the Parkgate HQ garda as he walked up Lansdowne Lane with his trumpet in a black case. We'll be the playing the national anthem for the first time at the new stadium, It's a very special moment for us."

Behind him was Jimmy Magee, who needed no introduction. He was licking his lips in anticipation of a special evening. Was the old girl the same Lansdowne Road he remembered?

"No, no," said Jimmy emphatically. "Lansdowne Lane looks the same but that's about it. I like the fact that the crowd are very close to the pitch.

"But it is wonderful, there's no doubt about that. It's beautiful when it is empty -- it's Ireland all over with the green seats."


In the bowels of the stadium, the fans swooned at the sheer luxury of it all: 72 kiosks and restaurants, bars and proper toilets. They streamed off the DART trains and unlike the old days of crush and chaos they were smartly directed to their seats.

Aside from all the excited Irish fans, there were even some real Argentines in town to soak it all up. The legendary Ricky Villa, who scored an absurdly fancy goal in the 1981 FA Cup, was spotted sporting a white beard.

Another bearded Argentine was, of course, missing. But deposed manager Diego Maradona was not missed by all. "We no like Maradona," said Peter Vilarino (50). He had travelled from Buenos Aires with daughters Maracena, Fatima and Guadalupe. "But we like the stadium very much."

Like any new build, there have been a few gremlins, apparently a touchy subject in the world of FAI officialdom. Within seconds of the rain starting at 6pm, the hawkers were ready. "Ponchos, €5, dere's a leeeeeek in the roof, €5!"

Inside the new cathedral, the main draw was Lionel Messi, the mesmerising Argentine number 10. He bobbed and weaved and the crowd lapped it up, even after a controversial Argentinian goal after 20 minutes. "Definitely offside," cried the crowd in unison.

But for its first night back in the big time and even with a raft of empty seats and the disappointing result, Lansdowne, sorry, the Aviva, was off to a flyer.

Irish Independent

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