Celebrations on hold as Aviva looks ahead to a new normal

Just waiting for the green light, stadium director Martin Murphy says the Aviva is ready to go for the return to sport behind closed doors this summer.
Celebrations on hold as Aviva looks ahead to a new normal
Majella Smyth, Head Groundsman, Aviva Stadium (©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)
Majella Smyth, Head Groundsman, Aviva Stadium (©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)

Just waiting for the green light, stadium director Martin Murphy says the Aviva is ready to go for the return to sport behind closed doors this summer.

The home to Ireland’s football and rugby teams yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of its official opening by then Taoiseach Brian Cowen, while today should have been the day Murphy handed the stadium over to UEFA for the four Euro 2020 matches that had been due to be staged there next month.

Covid-19 and a shutdown of all sport as a result means the Euros have been delayed a year and Aviva Stadium spent its birthday serving as a testing centre for suspected coronavirus cases.

“We certainly wouldn’t have anticipated marking it in this way,” Murphy told the Irish Examiner. “Rather than celebrating, it’s been remembering the good times and telling ourselves there’ll be good times ahead as well.”

Whenever those times come, Murphy expects football to be first back to the stadium. Sport behind closed doors is earmarked for a June 29 return under Phase 4 of the Government’s Roadmap for the reopening of society while contact sports such as rugby will be permitted from August 10, and that would tally with the FAI’s interim deputy chief executive Niall Quinn telling a League of Ireland podcast that there are plans for a four-team tournament between its four European-qualified sides Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians and Derry City.

Murphy said: “Just in terms of timelines it’s probably likely to be football. I’ve no idea what football that will be but football has the go-ahead sooner than rugby, which will follow pretty quickly but that’s just pure speculation, trying to second-guess what might happen.

“We’ve been doing a lot of planning for various scenarios, games behind closed doors or with restricted capacity and that’s where we are.

“We’re waiting but we have been doing some research. We’ve worked with the IRFU and FAI to put a paper together on how the games could be run behind closed doors and that’s going to be fed into the decision-making process but ultimately the decision will be made by the Government and whatever guidance they have.

“Clearly we’re looking very closely at what the Bundesliga are doing and the Premier League and what other sports are doing regarding getting back into action.”

“We’re ready to go. We’ve done our protocols, we’ve consulted widely and our plans align with what they are proposing in the (English) Premier League and in the German Bundesliga and that’s really where we’re being guided.

“We’re also part of the European Stadium Management Association and people are comparing and sharing information in that forum. Everybody’s in this one together and we’ve all got to try and work our way out of it as well.

“Irish people love sport and they feel totally deprived of sport. I think there’s a massive pent-up appetite now for seeing live sport and even watching it on TV. We can’t wait.”

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