FOR a chat with Martin Murphy, the manager of the Aviva stadium, you don’t meet up on the premises.
It’s a significant point: when you sit down in Murphy’s office at the stadium management building – a stone’s throw away, but a separate building nonetheless — he explains casually that the designers felt management offices on the stadium site wasted space that could otherwise be used more fruitfully.
A small saving of a few hundred square feet, maybe, but indicative of a certain mindset. Murphy worked in the old Lansdowne Road and was involved in the construction of the new version, moving permanently to the stadium company in 2007. The end product is something he and his colleagues are immensely proud of.
“I’d have had experience in the past of running soccer and rugby events, but this is different. It’s moved on in huge leaps from what we had — we’ve effectively moved on a century from what we had, from a stadium which really had no infrastructure.
“We looked at a lot of other venues before deciding on the design, which incorporates many features we’d seen elsewhere and which worked well.
“I’d been involved with the Irish rugby team so the new stadium has specific features which are orientated towards players, in both soccer and rugby. The reaction from everyone has been really positive — even Alex Ferguson, when he saw the facilities here, was very impressed and very effusive in his praise, and Manchester United contacted us about that. That’s praise indeed.
“We’ve had a number of matches now — we’ve had a total of 17 events on the pitch — and now we’re looking forward to our first Six Nations.”
This the tournament which made the reputation of the old ground, but fond as everyone was of Lansdowne, its time had been and gone. Murphy concurs.
“There was a great atmosphere there, and that’s something we’ve tried to retain, but it was very uncomfortable for people and you didn’t have any protection from the elements — you were completely exposed.
“Now, that was part of the atmosphere, but our facilities were non-existent, and I think that’s the big thing that people will notice – there are good toilet facilities, good food outlets, and you can have a drink in comfort.
“There are lots of facilities here we just couldn’t offer in the old stadium.”
The challenge, therefore, is maintaining an old-school atmosphere in a cutting-edge environment. Murphy’s confident they can get it right.
“These big international events have their own atmosphere, and you can see the build-up on big match days here — particularly the bigger games. It’s fantastic to be working in an environment with that kind of excitement.
“Having England and France at home... they’re two fantastic events and we know the tradition behind those games, they’re great days, but Italy are improving all the time as well, and those are great events also.
“There’s a bit more hype about the likes of England and France but in terms of the day itself, any of those competitive games — soccer or rugby — have the same build-up, the same atmosphere, the same tension.”
Murphy is honest enough to acknowledge the disappointment of the pre-Christmas games at the new stadium, describing it as “a bit of a downer”.
“I think everyone was disappointed, I think the IRFU was disappointed, and it was a bit of a downer but at the end of the day there were some great matches here in the autumn slot.
“It was just a disappointment that there weren’t more people here for the games, but the atmosphere was still very good for those who were here.
“Any new venue has difficulties, and we’ve had some, but everyone got behind the thing and it has certainly become much improved. One of the advantages of the six games in November — we had two soccer games as well — was that we had all the same people for all the games, so they got more familiar with the routine of the day, and as a result it was much more efficient at the end of that experience.”
Continuity helps, with the return of old stewards helping the operation.
“Quite a number of the stewards have come back to us, after going to work in Croke Park, but we’ve also recruited a lot of new people — and a lot of local people — and there’s a lot of new people in the catering operation.
“There’s now about twice the number of people working here compared to the old stadium — on match days nowadays we’d have about 1,600 people working.”
They need that many. People’s standards are high when it comes to the expense of an event.
“The whole thing has moved on,” says Murphy. “People are going abroad to events in other venues, and we just didn’t compare. Now we’re up there, the stadium is world-class, which is acknowledged by visitors who come from venues which are world-class themselves.
“It wasn’t just a case of coming to the venue for a game, it’s a matter of the whole experience — before and after the game, providing refreshments for them and making it easier for them to get in and out of the venue.
“That caused a few problems because we’ve had to introduce new routes to the ground and a lot of people had established patterns for attending games, but that was all done purely for safety purposes.
“There was certainly some irritation from people — everybody wants to walk down Lansdowne Road, for instance, but you simply can’t have 50,000 people walking that way because the road won’t take it.
“A lot more people are using public transport, too, which is great, but they also understand now how we get people on and off the DART before and after matches. Overall, the experience is much better than before.”
Murphy rarely sees much of the game himself — “Never have, it’s usually the highlights later on the television,” — but his eagerness to see other people enjoy the day produces a closing message.
“There’ll probably be a lot of people coming for the first time in the next couple of weeks, and my advice would be to plan their routes.
“Look at your ticket and the information on that, the colour coding and entry route. There are five entry points to the stadium.
“Also, the availability of public transport is much greater than it was in the old stadium. The DART has greater capacity, the LUAS brings people to the O2 and they can come across the river that way, while there are also plenty of buses.”