Ulster to play key role in Irish Rugby World Cup bid
With Casement Park and Celtic Park two of the venues put forward by the IRFU as they formally launched their bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup, deputy First Minster Martin McGuinness has thanked the GAA for making Ireland's bid possible.
In all, two-thirds of the stadia on the long-list revealed by the IRFU in Dublin yesterday are GAA grounds with McGuinness especially pleased to see Celtic Park, the home of Derry GAA, in his home town included.
"The 2023 Rugby World Cup bid is a bid for all the people of Ireland and the Executive will make every effort to make it a winning bid," he said.
"We have a proven track record of hosting major global events including the G8, Giro d'Italia, MTV Music Awards, the World Police and Fire Games, the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race and the Irish Open Golf Championship.
"This is a collective effort and I commend the GAA for placing its grounds at the disposal of the tournament, a key factor in Ireland's ability to bid for the tournament.
"It is estimated some 445,000 are predicted to travel to Ireland for the tournament so it would be of immense benefit to the economy. Worldwide TV audiences for the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England reached some four billion people which offers global exposure money simply can't buy.
"I am delighted that Celtic Park has been included in this shortlist. Derry has always been a sporting city."
The Sinn Fein MLA went on to joke that he hoped the judge who will rule on Casement Park is a rugby fan.
Original plans for the venue were blocked by opposition from residents in December of 2014 but, after new proposals were unveiled last month, it is hoped that the redeveloped stadium will host its first game in 2020.
As Ulster Rugby CEO Shane Logan told this paper last month, Casement, with a capacity above 30,000, is the only way that Type A pool games featuring the world's biggest teams going head to head could take place north of the border.
With Ballymena native and Hollywood star Liam Neeson lending his support by narrating a short promotional film, Ireland are the first of the bids to move to the 'candidate' phase with France and South Africa also in the running to host the tournament. A decision will be made in November 2017.
In the intervening months, a detailed examination will take place, final bids will be submitted in June, and presentations made in October.
Irish legend Brian O'Driscoll, who is an ambassador for the bid, believes the chance to play in a home World Cup would be a special experience for the squad in seven years time.
"As envious as I was of the boys' superb victory over the All Blacks 10 days ago, I can't imagine how envious I would be of a team that got the opportunity to play out here in front of their home crowd in a World Cup," said Ireland's most-capped player.
"It would be a very special thing for any Irish player. Fingers crossed we can keep the plan on track.
"You are looking at guaranteeing sold out stadia. You look at the passion that has been shown in sport but particularly in rugby over the last 15 years, be it the provincial game or internationally; there is huge excitement surrounding the game.
"You look back to the World Cup last year on a Sunday against Romania - 90,000 people turned up. No matter where you go in the world Irish people are going to fill out stadia. In your own country you have to feel they are going to do likewise."
A six-week extravaganza of the sport, the IRFU claimed ticket sales and associated tourism could generate up to £692m.
Interestingly, in an effort to keep costs down for fans, CEO Phillip Browne has said every effort would be made to maintain standing terraces.
"We can put temporary seating into the stadia, so they can be all seated, but we would actually prefer not to do that," he revealed.
"It provides us with the opportunity to sell tickets at an accessible price to real rugby fans.
"The values of rugby are camaraderie friendship, respect - those are values that are effectively emphasised by standing terraces.
"Many regret that in the Aviva Stadium here we couldn't retain the terraces. We've retained terraces in Thomond Park and in Ravenhill and obviously the big GAA grounds have some level of standing room as well."
- The funeral of Queen's University rugby stalwart Robbie Moore, who died on Sunday, will take place in Roselawn at 11am on Friday, not 12 noon as originally reported.
- Croke Park, Dublin: 83,200 capacity
- Aviva Stadium, Dublin: 51,711 capacity
- RDS, Dublin: 18,667 capacity
- Casement Park, Belfast: 34,500 capacity
- Kingspan Stadium, Belfast: 18,168 capacity
- Celtic Park, Londonderry: 17,000 capacity
- Thomond Park, Limerick: 26,897 capacity
- Pearse Stadium, Galway: 34,000 capacity
- Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Cork: 45,770 capacity
- Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney: 38,200 capacity
- MacHale Park, Castlebar: 31,000 capacity
- Nowlan Park, Kilkenny: 26,000 capacity