Delaney calls on fans to be Ireland’s ‘12th man’

HOW many Irish fans eventually make it into the Stade de France on November 18 remains to be seen but the early indications are that well over 10,000 will secure a golden ticket for the second leg of the World Cup play-off.

The French FA have already handed over the obligatory 8,500 tickets to the FAI, which amounts to 10% of the ground’s capacity, and many more supporters are expected to source avenues on the continent itself.

“The Irish fans are very innovative at getting tickets,’’ said FAI chief executive John Delaney, “we all know that. They’ll buy them off the French directly and do all the wonderful things they have done in the past.

“We want to get as many Irish fans as we can into the ground to be the 12th man. I remember being there in ‘88 when we played England, ‘94 when we played Italy and we had 50,000 or 60,000 which was incredible.’’

The last time Ireland faced France in Paris was during the 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign when the presence of anything up to 25,000 Irish fans made the tie seem almost like a home fixture.

French coach Raymond Domenech has already spoken about the need for French fans to buy up tickets in order to prevent a repeat of that night or a similar situation at the Parc des Princes when Scotland were the visitors.

Delaney has diluted talk of similar Irish numbers making the trip this time due to this being a midweek game as opposed to a Saturday fixture and the added fact that the economy has taken such a turn for the worst.

However, he said he would be “amazed’’ if the Irish fans did not snap up their total official allocation of 8,500 and promised to make representations for more should the need arise.

“All they have to do is increase the section,’’ he said. “I don’t know what the demand will be in France. They haven’t sold out many of their games to date but I know this is a big tie and there will be a lot of interest. If we do need extra tickets, and I imagine we will need some, we will be asking right up to kick off for them, I can tell you that.’’

The French have also requested their full allocation of away tickets — just over 7,000 — for the first leg in Croke Park, which would result in Hill 16 being engulfed in a different shade of blue on the night of November 14.

The home leg will kick-off at 8pm Irish time and the FAI are still in negotiations to sell the TV rights. It has already been suggested that the organisation could make a profit of up to €5m for their sale. Delaney refused to speculate on any likely figure but he did confirm the money raised from the rights would go towards reducing their portion of the debt on the Aviva Stadium.

The same would hold for any profits made by the FAI from Ireland’s participation in next year’s World Cup finals — should the side qualify — although he stressed that the association’s business plans were not dependant on such an event.

Were Ireland to qualify it would also help with the sale of corporate tickets for the new stadium and Delaney claimed yesterday that the association enjoyed its best month in that regard in September.

Of course, Ireland’s chances of making it to South Africa were hindered by FIFA’s belated decision to seed the eight European group runners-up — something which Sepp Blatter has finally admitted was handled badly.

“I didn’t hear that but we know they did,’’ Delaney responded. “We made that point to them. I don’t think its fair going into any tournament that you wouldn’t know that there is going to be seedings or not.’’

These are busy times for Irish football. That much was evident by the amount and variety of questions put to Delaney yesterday and most of the topics are connected to some degree with the international picture.

Delaney confirmed yesterday that the FAI Cup final will still go ahead as planned in Tallaght Stadium on Sunday November 22, despite its proximity to the second leg of the World Cup play-offs.

The international and domestic games did cross paths last week however, after Ireland’s game against Montenegro, when Giovanni Trapattoni stated that “we have no league in Ireland’’.

Understandably, it is a remark that touched a few nerves.

“I think his point is that League of Ireland players will find it difficult to make the international squad,” Delaney said. “Most people accept that.’’

Meanwhile Dawson Travel yesterday launched their Cork Charter for a day trip to the play-off. Total cost will be €328 per person. The packages can be booked through your local Travel Agent or directly with Dawson Travel 021-4274397.

Elsewhere, Leon Best has emerged as an injury worry for the play-offs after limping off during Coventry’s defeat at Cardiff on Tuesday night.

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