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Huge sporting events are Northern Ireland's speciality

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland didn't quite know what hit it. For a country more used to getting worked up over red, white and blue and green, white and gold, the place we call home turned a bright shade of PINK earlier this year.

The Giro d'Italia, the iconic cycling race, HERE in Northern Ireland. For three memorable days in May, our landscape was transformed as one of the biggest sports events on the planet arrived.

There were questions, and fears from some, about our ability to successfully stage such a monumental affair which would be watched on television by millions across the globe. No problem to us.

Organisers said it was the best 'Big Start' they had ever had in the long and proud history of the Giro as tens of thousands of spectators lined the route to cheer on the riders, be it up the hill at Stormont, along the Antrim coast or in the county of Armagh.

Northern Ireland got on its bike and delivered. Now the country is getting on the ball, determined to bring the Rugby World Cup here in 2023.

This morning an all-Ireland bid was officially launched as the governments north and south pledged to do all they can to ensure the tournament is played on these shores in nine years' time.

There will, of course, be fierce competition, but the cross border initiative has a genuine chance of succeeding, offering Ulster sports fans the opportunity to see a world class competition and the finest rugby talent from New Zealand, Australia and beyond in their own backyard.

A trump card in the bid should be the people of Northern Ireland and how they rally behind major events. We just love it when a big show comes to town, like the Giro. Most people didn't have a clue who any of the competitors were, not even those wearing the leader's pink jersey, but they still turned out to celebrate it being here... the motto being if you bring it, we will come.

The Giro left everyone feeling, well, in the pink...not the first time of late that a sporting occasion has generated that feelgood factor.

Think back to 2012 when Royal Portrush Golf Club hosted the Irish Open. Record crowds turned up, making it The European Tour's first 'sold out' tournament. Building on that no wonder next year's Irish Open is in Newcastle at the Royal County Down course and in 2017 it will go to Enniskillen and the Lough Erne Resort.

The 2013 World Police and Fire Games, staged here, proved another hit. We've become good at this type of thing.

It's not just popular television shows or blockbuster movies keen to come here... major sporting events want a piece of the Northern Ireland action too.

We are out of the wilderness. In the dark, dark days when the Troubles were at their worst, it was virtually impossible to attract sports stars, teams or competitions. In the future, the Open Championship will be ours and I can see the Tour de France coming too plus the European Super Cup final when mighty Barcelona or Real Madrid may turn out at the new Windsor Park. And all before 2023. That will have to be left free for the Rugby World Cup!

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