Aviva capacity 'bang on' - Browne


THE OPENING of the Aviva Stadium was heralded yesterday as a positive news story for Irish rugby and soccer but IRFU chief executive Philip Browne still had to address concerns over the 51,000 capacity which may yet be reduced due to problems seeing the pitch in over 100 seats.

Redeveloping within the confines of the old Lansdowne Road site meant the Havelock Square end now only facilitates 3,000 spectators. This was the price the IRFU were willing to pay to keep rugby in its traditional home.

“I am satisfied with the decision we made,” Browne said when reflecting on a process that began in 1994 when he took a bus load of union “blazers” out to Newlands Cross to view a patch of land that could have been developed into the international stadium.

“Newlands Cross gave us options and we learnt a lot from looking at feasibility studies there and elsewhere.

“In terms of the capacity, it is absolutely bang on for us in rugby. It absolutely is,” Browne insisted. “We have struggled at times to fill Croke Park. The clubs have taken the brunt of that. I can say that without any hesitation this is the financial engine that will drive rugby and soccer for the next 40 years. We have no qualms that this facility can do that for us.”

Eventually the IRFU, along with the FAI, decided to stay at the venue in use since it was established by Henry Dunlop in 1872, then named the Royal Irish Park Stadium.

“The first rugby international took place between Ireland and England on March 11th, 1878. The IRFU honorary treasurer Henry Sheppard acquired the lease, which passed officially into the union’s hands at his death in 1906 for the then significant sum of 200 pounds.

In 2006 The Irish Timesasked Dunlop’s 88-year-old son Eric Dunlop, who has since passed on, about the redevelopment plans that have now come to fruition.

“I remember when I was a child there was a war memorial from the first World War that people would tip their hat to when passing by,” said Mr Dunlop. “It was on the inside wall between the first and second gate.”

No one was wearing a hat yesterday but the war memorial can still be found just outside the new media centre as one left the stadium under clear blue skies. There is also a suite named after Henry Dunlop.

So, it was a positive news day in many respects. But Browne also had to warn of the threat to Irish rugby’s future prosperity by the Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan’s proposal to deny the IRFU up to €13 million per annum by bringing certain rugby matches to free-to-air television.

“I don’t really want to talk about that today, to be quite honest. Today is about the stadium and what it will do for Irish rugby and soccer.

“My views are well known and all I will say is I think Minister Ryan is mistaken and to move down the route he is proposing will do significant and possible terminal damage to the professional game in this country and the outcome of that will be terminal damage to the amateur game at club and schools level and I am not going to say any more about it.”

Sitting alongside his FAI counterpart John Delaney, Browne also conceded the Heineken Cup finals will not be coming to Dublin in 2011 (Millennium Stadium, Cardiff) mainly due to the date clash with the UEFA Europa Cup final or in 2012 (Twickenham) as London’s hosting of the Olympics appears to have influenced that particular decision by the ERC.

“In the 2012 bid there was little difference commercially between our bid and Twickenham. It boiled down to politics. Hopefully the politics will swing our way in 2013.”

Could the capacity become an issue in this regard? “No. At the end of the day, it will be a commercial (decision).”

Under-20s to be first to test new ground

THE OPENING rugby match in the Aviva Stadium on July 31st will effectively be an under-20s fixture with a Leinster and Ulster selection taking on a Munster and Connacht side with little practical value for Irish rugby. No fully contracted players will be available as they will all be involved in pre-season training ahead of a World Cup year, writes Gavin Cummiskey.

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne stated yesterday the fixture is to allow stadium director Martin Murphy an opportunity to test out the systems at the newly constructed venue.

“Really the match was put in place to ensure rugby is the first sport played, as Manchester United are facing an Airtricity League XI on August 4th, as an acknowledgement of the fact rugby has been played here since 1872.

“It is effectively a ramp-up event for Martin,” Browne stated.

“He simply couldnt have a full house fixture, 51,000 without ever having tested the systems so we hope to have 20-30,000 at that event to give Martin the opportunity to make sure everything is working properly. It will be the best of the young talent coming through the academy systems.”

The first international rugby match will be Ireland against reigning World Cup champions South Africa on November 6th.