Cork is primed for its first senior Republic of Ireland international, with Rebel fans set to turn out in their thousands to give the Boys in Green a memorable Euro 2016 send off, writes Kevin O’Neill.
Roy Keane, Martin O’Neill and the squad enjoyed a training session on the pristine Turner’s Cross pitch on a warm evening yesterday.
Tickets for tonight’s tie against Belarus sold out within minutes of going on sale as football mad Leesiders take their chance to get a final look at the Ireland squad before next week’s European Championships.
A number of players will be aiming to stake a claim for a place in O’Neill’s squad, with the final 23 set to be announced after the final whistle this evening.
Among those hoping to be included is Cork’s David Meyler.
The Rochestown man joined the squad fresh from helping club side Hull City earn promotion to the Premier League on Saturday.
He said the chance to play at Turner’s Cross for Ireland would be a memorable one.
“Playing in Turner’s Cross with Ireland, given the opportunity, would be fantastic. All my family will be here. Being from Cork and having played for Cork City, it’s a terrific chance to do something well.”
Meyler said the entire community is enjoying having Ireland in town.
“It’s lovely. I believe that last time Ireland played in Cork was against Spain in 1985. It’s great to see everyone here, there were so many kids out to see us earlier, and I know that the whole of Cork will be looking forward to it.”
Football fans won’t catch a glimpse of Robbie Keane, though, with the captain ruled out with a calf strain. Former Cork City man Kevin Doyle is also unavailable.
Local businesses are expecting a boost today, with Rearden’s on Washington Street hosting the official FAI send-off ahead of the tournament from 6.30pm. Seo Linn, who have recorded Ireland’s official Euro 2016 anthem, will perform after the match, with analysis of the game provided by TV3’s Tommy Martin.
Tickets cost €10 with all monies raised going to the FAI’s official charity Mustard Seed Communities.
Meanwhile, the FAI will take the opportunity to mark the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster ahead of tonight’s game.
Adi Roche, CEO of Chernobyl Children International (CCI), will be introduced to the crowd before kick-off to mark the solidarity between Ireland and Belarus.
Ms Roche said: “It is truly a wonderful sporting and historic occasion.
“It is a momentous occasion to welcome our Belarussian sportsmen and friends to Ireland and indeed to Cork, on this the 30th anniversary of the world’s worst ever nuclear accident.
“Sadly, because of the wind direction over 70% of the radioactive fallout fell on Belarus with tragic consequences, with lives lost and damaged, massive evacuations, villages, and towns destroyed and abandoned forever, contamination of land and homes, devastating health effects especially on the children.
“This wonderful occasion has cemented the links between Ireland and Belarus.
“The Irish people were the first responders to that tragic accident 30 years ago and even now we remain committed and dedicated to the survivors of Chernobyl.
“Tonight’s international match honours us all and I know that the Belarussian visitors will be given a great Cork welcome and our Irish team a great ‘send-off’ to Euro 2016.”
This story first appeared in the Evening Echo newspaper.