Ireland look to be pitch perfect
By Liam Mackey
The Republic of Ireland will hold a training session open to the public on June 5, the squad’s first full day at their European Championship base camp in Gdynia in Poland.
And local sources here are predicting it could attract as many as 10,000 people — the majority of them Polish — to the 15,000 capacity all-seater home of Second Division side Arka Gdynia.
Irish football writers were yesterday given a tour of the compact stadium, which was only completed last year, and first impressions were definitely favourable, even as sunshine briefly gave way to snow on a typically changeable April day by the Baltic Sea.
Built by the local municipality at a cost of €21m, the Stadion GOSiR has four covered stands, with seating in the yellow and blue colours of Arka. And as well as neat and tidy dressing rooms, the ground also boasts a merchandise shop and sports bar and café.
Close by, the local rugby club complex will be used to house a media centre for journalists covering Ireland’s presence at the tournament in June.
Arka Gdynia still have four games to play on their home ground before the end of the Polish club season and, while the pitch is generally in good nick, it inevitably betrays a few signs of wear and tear, with a groundsman yesterday sprinkling sand in some of the more obvious divots.
However, experts say the surface will be restored to perfection before the Irish arrive in town for the tournament in June.
Turf specialists STRI (Sports Turf Research Institute), who have installed pitches at three of the European Championship venues in Ukraine, are keeping a close eye on the training ground in Gdynia, at the request of the FAI. And the company’s Kilkenny-born operations director, Richard Hayden, has described the Irish base camp as one of the top five in the whole tournament.
STRI have already been engaged by England’s Football Association to reconstruct their controversial training pitch in Krakow, but, according to Hayden, the pitch in Gdynia will require little more than routine renovation to have it in ship shape for Giovanni Trapattoni and his squad.
“We don’t ever want to have a repeat of the Roy Keane incident,” Hayden told the Irish Examiner. “And I don’t know how they did it but the FAI managed to do what I would have considered the impossible, because they got a team base camp in Poland that is probably in the top five base camps in the whole tournament.
“If you compare it to the England one — where the whole pitch had to be replaced — Ireland are walking into something like a Premier League ground.
“Now, obviously, the pitch is used heavily because it’s a league ground, but the pitch is level, the changing facilities are good and it’s to a professional team status. And I think once it’s cleaned up and the pitch renovated and seeded, it will be perfect. It’s what we would call an annual renovation, involving seeding, drilling in the seed and growing it. And that happens all the time.
“The club will probably do that under our direction. And we’re also working with the FAI on the training camp in Montecatini in Italy.
“We’ve been out there twice already and we’re keeping an eye on that for them as well.”
Just two weeks ago, STRI were also contracted to supervise and guide re-turfing of all match pitches in Poland ahead of the tournament. And Hayden told me he will be taking a “particular interest” in the Municipal Stadium in Poznan, where Ireland will play two of their group games, against Croatia and Italy.
“They’ve had six pitches there in the last year,” he revealed. “It’s a very, very shaded stadium and they also have two teams using it, so we’ll be supervising the relaying of that pitch. It’s a beautiful stadium but it’s an aggressive environment for the pitch. We’ll take out what’s there and relay it in the first week of May. And I think they’re planning a test match on it after that. But, in Europe, what we call ‘lay and play’ is a fairly regular occurrence.”
Richard Hayden suspects the events in Saipan 10 years ago continues to concentrate minds in the FAI.
“Anytime I’ve ever met John Delaney or other FAI officials, the training pitch is the central focus,” he said.
“It’s amazing how high a priority it is. The same with the Aviva Stadium. Maybe it happened from Saipan, but there is an understanding that this is a central part of everything you do. You can get away with a dodgy shower or a light bulb that doesn’t work because it can be changed. But you can’t get away with a dodgy pitch.”