Belfast Telegraph

While Northern Ireland argues about what might have been, a brilliant new stadium opens in the Republic

While Northern Ireland politicians argued over their failed stadium venture, Ulster rugby players ran out for the first-ever match in the new jewel in the Republic’s crown.

No, there was no talk about Maze redevelopment, conflict resolution centres or the failure to land Olympic handouts as 35,000 people arrived to find Dublin’s jawdropping Aviva Stadium ready for business.

And for the €410m (£340m) stadium's first match, The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) took a leaf out of the GAA's book.

An All-Ireland match south of the Liffey? It seems too good, or strange, to be true. But that's just what happened.

And these IRFU folks don't do things by halves. It was truly an all-island event, with a young Leinster-Ulster selection taking on the new kids from both Connacht and Munster in an effort to show off the stars of the future.

As the spectators entered the site of the old Lansdowne Road stadium, yellow billboards around the place had already written the reviews.

‘History is about to kick off,’ claimed one. ‘A stadium to take on the world,’ said another. ‘Welcome to the edge of your seat’ was the poster in fans' view as they went through the turnstiles.

Well, the management never said they were modest.

“We're looking for all the knobs and whistles,” said Dubliner Katherine Lawlor when asked what she was expecting of the venue.

“And no vuvuzelas, no foghorns, thank God — we saw on the IRFU website they've already been banned.”

With ten tries and nine conversions under their belts, the combined north-east outfit finished the rain-sodden game 68-0;

one would expect a few more evenly contested matches in the future.

As the final whistle blew the reviews came in, mostly of the ‘we won’t remember the match, but we’ll remember being at the first one here’ variety.

Organisers were equally happy, but aware of a few glitches still to iron out.

“We were delighted with the turnout,” an IRFU spokesman said. “In reality there were 45,000 tickets in circulation, but we expected there to be a drop-off given it's a bank holiday weekend.

“But everything from an operational and media aspect went as well as we hoped.

Next up for the Aviva Stadium is the meeting of Manchester United and a select team from the League of Ireland on Wednesday night, set to take place under the stadium's 3,000 lux floodlighting system. Wayne Rooney and the boys are in for a treat.

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