Garth Brooks’ grip on Ireland’s disposable income led the FAI to abandon plans for a second home summer friendly.
Chief executive John Delaney says the FAI is seeking to stage the May 31 game against Italy on neutral turf because the US singer has “cleaned the country out”. Five sold-out comeback concerts in Croke Park for July by Brooks have racked up 400,000 ticket sales.
That return is music to the ears of the GAA but not their football counterparts across the city. Bar Euro 2012, Lansdowne Road has hosted a double-header of internationals in May and June for the past three years. But this time, the FAI’s only end-of-season home fixture will be against Turkey on May 25.
“I think two home games would have been too much for the public,” said Delaney, currently at the Winter Olympics in Sochi in his role as Olympic Council of Ireland vice-president.
“With Garth Brooks cleaning out the country, it was always going to be one home game.”
Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane then go travelling with the squad to face the Italians six days later, in either Zurich or London. They complete their schedule in New York on June 10 with another friendly, likely to be facing Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.
Delaney admitted the US trip is popular with the players — as many dovetail the visit into a holiday.
“Finishing off in America is something everybody likes, even the players,” he said. “Some of them like to stay on in America, which happened last year.”
Delaney also revealed O’Neill is anxious to face top nations to boost Ireland’s lowly world ranking of 67th. Positive results against Turkey (42nd) and especially Italy (eighth) and Portugal (fourth) would drastically improve Ireland’s prospects of escaping their current status that leaves them as fifth seeds for the 2018 World Cup draw in July of next year.
“Martin is not looking to play low-ranked countries,” said Delaney. “To be fair, he wants games that will test us.
“Playing Italy and Turkey are good tests and the June game could well be one of the teams that are at the World Cup. They would be three good tests coming into the start of the Euro 2016 qualifiers in September.”
Meanwhile, as the FAI puts the final touches on their application to become one of the 13 host cities for Euro 2020, Delaney conceded he didn’t agree with the failed Euro 2008 hosting bid.
The joint bid with Scotland, eventually won by Switzerland and Austria, appeared doomed from the outset. Ireland certainly drew chuckles from their competitors in 2002 when the Uefa inspection committee were escorted around a barren field in Abbotstown designated for the ill-fated Bertie Bowl.
It wasn’t until three years later than Delaney was promoted from treasurer to chief executive.
“At the time I didn’t think the 2008 bid with Scotland was really the best option for us, even though I was honorary treasurer then,” said Delaney.
“Croke Park hadn’t been opened at that stage and the Abbotstown project hadn’t even commenced and ultimately didn’t do.
“We are in a far better position now to make this Euro 2020 bid. For us to host three group games and a round-of-16 game would be extraordinary.
“If we qualified and we got the city as well, we would have two of the home games in Dublin. That would just be unbelievable.
“Even for the rest of the country, they are looking at fan zones in Cork or in Galway and other parts of Ireland. I think there would be a real sense of national pride. If we got it, it would be very helpful to the Rugby World Cup bid.
“It would show a country like Ireland could be trusted to host a major tournament. I also think the fact that the Ryder Cup came to the K Club, we have hosted big concerts like Rihanna and Madonna, the Heineken Cup final, Europa League final and the fact that we had Celtic and Liverpool over — the country has a record of hosting big events.
“The fact that we have done those things stands us in a positive way. But if we got to host Euro 2020 games, this would be the biggest set of football matches ever played in this country. It could only better the game in Ireland.”
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