You are viewing the content for Monday 2 August 2010

Home, sweet home for fans

THREE years it took to build the Aviva Stadium, but three seconds was all it apparently took to get a pint of Guinness there.

Without a World Cup qualifier or an autumn international to occupy their minds, the pleasure was in the detail for the majority of punters sampling the new €410million stadium for the first time on a match day.

And being served their pint of plain in a fraction of the time normally taken – eight seconds at my count – thanks to fast-pour taps, left the majority surprised with the outcome.

"It’s as good as any pint. Well, any stadium pint anyway," purred Connacht fan Steve Hickey from Galway. "The traditionalists will probably hate it. Then again, they’ve hated it ever since they started serving stout colder than a penguin’s backside."

Traditionalism has indeed been thrown out the (very bright) windows at the Aviva. Rugby has been played on this site since 1878, but never in such glamorous surrounds.

Spacious concourses have replaced dank corridors, smoothed contours instead of uneven edges. It’s bold, it’s resplendent, and it’s ours.

For now, though, it retains a sense of being unfinished, with just 3,000 seats shoehorned into the north end, out of necessity.

The goalposts are difficult to make out against the wall of glass behind, and no doubt will unnerve many a goal-kicker in the future.

But if you peered out over the top of this end, four huge cranes were clearly visible in the distance; a hopeful metaphor for new economic progress, as we sat in our ultra-modern, beautiful spaceship of a stadium.

And when you looked back again, there lay a pitch so perfectly manicured, the greenkeepers down at the 3 Irish Open in Killarney would have been proud of it.

Comparisons with Croke Park, as well as the old Lansdowne, were inevitable. Certainly, rugby’s return to its spiritual home has plenty of pros and cons.

The pitch is the correct size for a start, and the fans are closer to it. A friendly encounter of this nature was never going to provide a true barometer of whether the ‘Lansdowne roar’ has returned – we’ll have to wait until the autumn to discover that – but the initial signs were encouraging.

November will also likely provide the first shock to the system for fans and club members who have become accustomed to the availability of tickets at Croke Park.

With 30,000 less seats here, an under-supply is all too likely.

This wasn’t a problem on Saturday; Bank holiday weekend plans – not to mention the sporting drama taking place across town in GAA headquarters – probably helped revise downwards the pre-game predictions of a 45,000 attendance.

In the end, 35,150 pitched up to be part of a little piece of history, plenty of which was made on the pitch.

While Jamie Heaslip had scored the old ground’s last try, it was an Ulsterman who nabbed the first on the new turf; Craig Gilroy couldn’t help but celebrate early as he crossed after just five minutes.

Gilroy’s partner in crime on the other wing, Andrew Boyle of Leinster, had claimed the Aviva’s first hat-trick of tries inside an hour, while 10 tries in total helped Leinster/Ulster to a winning margin of 68 points – it’ll be a long time before that record tumbles.

The fans’ gripes afterwards were few and far between; access to the ground was a problem for some, and traffic jams were an issue. Many couldn’t bring themselves to call it by its new name, too.

A few complained bitterly at the lack of a smoking area – the entire stadium and grounds are smoke-free zones – and noted the problems this may cause at concerts in particular. But overall, fans of both codes can be proud of ‘the Aviva’; whether they’ll ever get used to calling it that, is another matter entirely.