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Planning begins in earnest for the great exodus of Irish fans

MONTHS before a ball is kicked at the finals of Euro 2012, Irish fans are already celebrating as yesterday's group draw for the finals has handed the Ireland support one of the easiest trips possible at the finals.

The dreaded draw was for the Irish team to be placed in Ukraine, as travel problems and hotel shortages -- quotes of €150-a-night for a single bed in a 12-dorm hostel in Kiev -- made that the nightmare scenario.

But the fact that Ireland will be playing their games in Gdansk and Poznan is about as good as it gets for Irish fans. They are reachable from this country -- thanks to direct flights with Ryanair -- and other points.

As of this morning, there was very little availability on scheduled Ryanair flights to the two cities, though Michael O'Leary's mob will no doubt add more planes in the coming weeks, with prices for a return trip likely to come in around €400 or more.

Money-conscious fans are planning other, cheaper, ways of getting to the games, with options including flying to Poznan from places like Bristol, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Paris with no-frills airlines like Ryanair and Wizzair. There are also flights to Gdansk from Bristol and Liverpool.

But money is tight so homework will be done, and a lot of fans could take the option of flying to somewhere like Berlin and then making their way to Poland over land -- a three-hour bus ride will take you from Berlin to Poznan.

Getting there is one thing, getting a bed for a night is another matter, but accommodation in Gdansk and Poznan will be a breeze for Irish fans, compared to the misery awaiting fans in cities like Donetsk and Kharkiv.


It will take a bit of homework to keep things under budget. This morning, the cheapest hotel in Poznan city centre was asking €200 a night for a single room around the time of the opening game against Croatia.

But Gdansk and Poznan are used to hosting big groups -- Gdansk is a major tourist attraction, while Poznan has been hosting trade fairs for years.

They also happen to be two of the prettier cities in Poland, and Gdansk, in particular, is a fascinating place.

If Irish fans are able to break away from football and beer for a while, the amazing past of the Gdansk area would hold the attention of anyone.

The whole region is soaked in history -- the Second World War effectively began here, in Westerplatte, while the fall of communism is also said to have started in Gdansk, with strikes at what was then called the Lenin Shipyard.

After that? Well, it could be off to Ukraine. If Ireland get out of their group as runners-up, behind Spain (and it's hard to see Spain not topping that group), their quarter-final would take place on June 24 in Kiev, against the winners of Group D (likely to be England or France).

Get through that one and we're back to Poland for the semi-final on June 28, against the winners of a possible tie between Holland or Portugal and Russia or the Czech Republic.

The final, if we're still around for it, will be in Kiev on Sunday, July 1.