Gerry Thornley: Giving the Aviva Stadium to Uefa for five weeks is patently ridiculous

As rugby competes with concert season - not to mind the Europa League final - the sport is battling to hold onto its own venues

They may not be able to cope with summer rugby in the south of France but it sure works in this neck of the woods. Come May the pitches are firmer, there’s generally less wind and rain, with more sun shining on players and spectators alike. And thus the rugby is invariably better too.

After sucking the hind tit of winter for much of the season, it’s the least rugby deserves. Allowing for this being a World Cup season, it helps too that this is the high stakes part of the campaign.

As the top four jostle for position in the most competitive run-in for a decade, two rounds of the URC’s regular season remain either side of next weekend’s Champions Cup final, before the play-offs take up the first three weekends in May as a precursor to Ireland’s two-test tour to South Africa against the back-to-back world champions. So, still nine weeks of high-octane rugby to go.

Next weekend’s Leinster-Toulouse final will break new ground as it takes place in a football stadium which is unlikely to behold such an elite European sporting contest for some time to come (if ever). Yet next season, EPCR are taking their showpiece finals weekend back to Cardiff yet again. Yawn.


It will be the eighth final in Cardiff - last season was just the fourth final in Dublin by comparison - so ensuring another boon for hotels which are every bit as overpriced as hereabouts.

This is hardly breaking new ground and considering how the 2018 final was brought to Bilbao in Spain, it remains a complete mystery why the tournament organisers have not anointed anywhere in, say, Italy as a host city for even one of the first 30 finals in the competition’s history.

Leaving that aside, end of season venues are becoming an unsatisfactory moveable feast as increasingly rugby’s venues are being rented for concerts etc.

It still sticks in the craw that Munster moved their Champions Cup quarter-final against Toulouse from Thomond Park (where they had trounced the rouges et noires twice before in their Limerick citadel) to the Aviva Stadium two years ago so their Branch could pocket some money from Ed Sheeran concerts.

Granted, over 40,000 attended the Aviva Stadium and the half-time rendition of Zombie was a precursor of memorable match nights at the World Cup in France.

However, tugging the forelock to Uefa in permitting the Aviva Stadium to be out of commission to rugby, effectively for over five weeks, so as to host next Wednesday’s Europa League final is patently ridiculous.

Apparently, the Aviva is the venue for this season’s Europa League final as compensation from Uefa on foot of the FAI not hosting any of the re-arranged 2020 European Championships.

This was approved by the Aviva Stadium board, which comprises of three IRFU and three FAI nominees, and that’s fair enough. But was it really necessary to preserve the grass for over three weeks and ensure adequate de-branding in order for UEFA to host it’s final in a ‘clean stadium’? Talk about Uefa being full of its own self-importance and the Aviva Stadium dutifully tugging the forelock!

The net effect was that the All-Ireland League finals had to be held a week after the semi-finals - when part-time and amateur teams should always be afforded two weeks in between - back on April 28th to accommodate a gap of 24 days between the Cork Constitution-Terenure final and the meeting of Bayer Leverkusen and Atalanta next Wednesday.

This week, the Queen’s Club in London announced that they would be hosting a new WTA event in 2025 the week before their annual men’s pre-Wimbledon tournament, and had conducted independent studies to allay any fears that the club’s grass courts could cope with week-long, back-to-back tournaments.

If anything, according to one better qualified person in these matters, the Aviva grass would only grow stronger at this time of the year. What’s more, don’t laugh, apparently it will then require a full two weeks for the Aviva Stadium to remove all of Uefa’s branding.

Granted, Leinster moving their Champions Cup semi-final to Croke Park gave that sporting event an additional novelty value and led to an increased 82,500 capacity.

The bottom line, of course, is that Leinster are tenants in both the RDS and the Aviva Stadium, and commercial factors are paramount as rugby overlaps with concert season.

Hence, it remains to be seen what venues may or may not host some knockout games this season. Leinster will bid farewell to the RDS for the foreseeable future after their final home game of the regular URC seasons against Connacht a fortnight hence.

Thereafter, pending the arena’s forthcoming redevelopment, the RDS will not be available to Leinster for the URC knock-out stages due to Rammnstein playing there on June 23rd.

Presuming Leinster earn a home quarter-final, at least Uefa will have moved on even bigger and greater things after a five-week occupancy, as that tie would be on the weekend of May 7th/8th/9th, which is more than two weeks after the Europa League final.

However, as Pink and Taylor Swift - genuflect everybody - are playing at the Aviva Stadium in June, were Leinster to host a URC semi-final or final (on Saturday June 22nd), one or both would take place in Croke Park.

As for Munster, presuming they host a quarter-final, that would take place in Thomond Park. Likewise, this would also apply were Munster to earn a home semi-final and final. Despite speculation that the province has been exploring the option of Páirc Uí Chaoimh as a venue, this has seemingly not been flagged to tournament organisers.

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