Cork City’s home ground of Turner’s Cross could play host to U21 European Championship Finals football if an historic joint bid by the IFA and the FAI to stage the 2023 tournament proves successful.
Windsor Park, which would host the final, was the location yesterday for the launch of the bid, with FAI chief executive John Delaney outlining a number of stadiums which would be in the running south of the border.
“From our point of view we have the Aviva Stadium and Tallaght’s third stand is almost done and we’re very hopeful the fourth stand will be done,” Delaney said.
“Dalymount Park has been announced as a 6,000-seater for €35m to be finished in 2022. Normally, minimum capacity (for the U21 Euro finals) is 8,000 but there is a history of dispensations. San Marino were given a dispensation below 8,000 seats. We see Dalymount Park as being fundamental to it. Thomond Park. Turner’s Cross, it’s 7,800, but I think Turner’s Cross would be fine. That’s at least five we could identify initially but when we get into the detail with (IFA chief executive) Patrick (Nelson) and his team, we will then pick out the particular stadiums we put into the bid document.”
As well as Windsor Park, potential venues in the north include the Ballymena Showgrounds and the Kingspan Stadium, with Patrick Nelson suggesting that additional options could also be considered if ongoing discussions at Uefa about enlarging the tournament bear fruit.
“The current edition that people are bidding for is a 12-team tournament but Uefa are always looking at those sorts of things and so should it turn out to be a slightly bigger tournament (in 2023), then we might need more stadia,” he said. “But we’re pretty confident that whether it’s 12 or 16, we’ll be able to cope with it.”
While the IRFU have already confirmed that Thomond Park in Limerick and Kingspan Stadium in Belfast can be used as potential venues in any bid, John Delaney didn’t rule out making an approach to the GAA if required.
“The GAA have always been very cooperative with the FAI in all their dealings,” he said. “When we were building the Aviva Stadium, they opened Croke Park. We had Páirc Uí Chaoimh recently. If both of us needed support from the GAA, we would of course look to speak to them.”
Delaney said that the decision to agree to have the final in Windsor Park was “a goodwill gesture” from the FAI after IFA president David Martin had first raised with him the idea of a joint bid to host the 2023 tournament.
While the expressed hope on the part of both associations is that, as joint hosts, the Republic and Northern Ireland would automatically qualify for the finals, Patrick Martin cautioned that “nothing is assumed” at this moment. “If it was 16 it would be a little bit easier to think about it in that respect but it’s still a little bit too early to be sure about that.” He also said it was not yet known what competition the IFA and FAI might face in the way of rival bids.
“There are always going to be a couple of people who will pop up and we’re out there probably two years ahead of the curve at this point on this one,” he said. “What we want to do is go out and tell a compelling story early and if other bids come along we’ll take them on and we’ll compete.”
Asked if he was concerned about how Brexit might impact on the cross-border initiative, he said: “We’re pretty confident we can put up a compelling bid and story together. What it will show is that organisations like ours can work together in a post-Brexit world. There are degrees of uncertainty that all of us are facing every day with Brexit coming up. There are many subjects on which you could say ‘how is this going to work, how is that going to work’ and the answer is we don’t know yet.
“What we’re confident about is that we know what Uefa are looking for, we know we can deliver it and deliver it in a compelling way. Our execution in both countries in terms of tournaments like this is good so I think in a post-Brexit world we can deliver.”
Hailing the bid as an illustration of “the greater cooperation between the two associations”, John Delaney also struck an upbeat note about its prospects of success.
“I’d be hopeful,” he said. We’re not in it to come second or third, we’re in it to win it.”
Meanwhile, on the day that it was revealed that Northern Ireland U21 manager Ian Baraclough has agreed a new two-year deal — which also put to bed speculation linking him to the vacant post at Derry City — John Delaney indicated that an announcement about the uncertain position of Baraclough’s Republic counterpart Noel King is imminent.
“We’ll deal with that next week but he is the current manager,” he said. “I’ll leave it at that.”