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FAI to reap qualifying rewards as supporters get set for feast in the east

AIRLINES and travel agents, Polish language instructors, credit unions, campervan salesmen and mobile phone operators.

They are just some of the groups of people who will be rubbing their hands with glee after last night's 4-0 win for the Republic of Ireland here in Tallinn as only a total catastrophe could see Ireland lose out on a place in next year's European Championship finals.

Qualification will see much-needed finance come into the coffers of the FAI, a body which has suffered job losses in recent times and, only this week, four staff were let go by the association.

But the implications for Ireland -- not just Irish football -- from qualification for the Euros is staggering and would dwarf the modest profit of just over €1m which the FAI made from competing at the finals of Euro '88.

The FAI will bank a minimum of €8m just for qualification, with more riches on the way if Trapattoni's team can win at least one match at the finals (UEFA pay out a bonus of €1m for a win at the finals and €500,000 for a draw), with €3m on offer for making the semi-finals and then a cash boost of €7.5m for the tournament winners.

But there are other spin-offs too in terms of what qualification could do for a nation which has been starved of success at international level for a decade.

The players on the Ireland team last night hail from places like Lifford, Finglas, Portmarnock, Tallaght, Clondalkin and Waterford, and they know just how tough things have been back home, with personal recession experience.

Shay Given, who played his 119th game for his country last night, has been personally affected by the economic situation.

"My sister had been working in Dublin, but she had to leave and she's in England now, for economic reasons," Given told the Herald today.

"It's tough times back home now, but anyone who's Irish that watched that game last night -- whether they were here in Tallinn or in England or Australia or Canada, wherever -- they will be proud of the team and proud to be Irish.

"We have had hard times but please God that win, and hopefully qualification for the finals, will give everyone in Ireland a lift, make the whole country feel better about itself for a few days at least and give us all something to look forward to.

"There is so much doom and gloom around the country now, but hopefully everyone in Ireland will have something to look forward to now," Given added.

Once qualification is secured on Tuesday night, Irish minds will then turn to the Ukrainian capital Kiev next month, when the draw for the finals is made.

And web-savvy fans will have credit cards at the ready and airline websites primed to try and book cheap flights to see the Ireland games.

The hope is that Ireland will get to play most, if not all, of their games in Poland as budget airlines fly there: Ryanair fly direct from Dublin to three of the host cities (Wroclaw, Gdansk and Poznan), while Aer Lingus go to Warsaw.

If Ireland happened to be playing their first group game in, say, Wroclaw, Ryanair currently have a return flight for around €200.

And then the hunt for tickets begins ...


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