Postcard from the Aviva Stadium - Wish you were here

Mon, Sep 07 2020

Stephen Kenny on the pitch ahead of kick off against Finland Credit: Macdara Ferris (ETPhotos)

Macdara Ferris reports from the Aviva Stadium

Wish you were here. No, really. I do. On the eve of the UEFA Nations League game against Finland, John Egan spoke about the behind-closed-door element of the match saying that in a “sad way we are getting used to it.” I really don’t want to get used to these ‘ghost games’.

On match day I normally come across to the Aviva walking from the office or it is a cycle on my bike from home. On Sunday I could drive over and park literally on Lansdowne Road but it wasn’t the same without the half and half scarves on sale, that smell from the chipper van or the shouts of the programme sellers.

Instead getting into the stadium was about temperature checks, one way systems and only one person allowed in the lift – I took the stairs up to the press box as I didn’t have the patience for that wait and felt guilty after driving to the stadium!

I made it to one of the designated social distanced seats in the press box just as the Finnish anthem was being played. Don’t worry I wasn’t late, it was over two and a half hours to kick off and so they were doing a test run for the teams lining up ahead of kick-off.

Soon after you could hear the siren of the Garda escort as the teams arrived separately to the stadium but with Sunday traffic and no supporters outside it was probably an escort that neither team really required.

Stephen Kenny took a stroll out onto the pitch soon after arriving and you had to feel for the new Ireland boss that he couldn’t have his family and friends in the ground for his first home game in charge.

There were a couple of nice touches by the FAI with the match programme. They digitally issued the programme to their season ticket holders who, like President Michael D. Higgins, had to watch the match from home. They also placed frontline workers on the cover of the programme in thanks for their hard work keeping country going during the COVID-19 crisis. 

The press room on matchday was closed so there was no tea, coffee or hot food but there were goody bags for the media to keep them going for the five or six hours we would spend in the stadium on matchday.

In case you were wondering there was a sambo, a bag of crisps, an apple, chocolate and water in each bag. You just had to remember you were wearing a mask before trying to tuck into any of the snacks. 

The advertisements in the toilets were stuck in a time loop promoting a Leinster v Munster match from April and while the music blared out over the PA during the warmups to make it seem like normal, it became even clearer what a strange event it was when the match kicked off.

There was no ‘come on you boys in green’ chants, no Olé Olé and no Depeche Mode. While it was interesting to hear Darren Randolph shout as he pushed his team higher up the pitch and hear or Shane Duffy encouraging his teammates to hold the defensive line, I actually can just get enough of these behind-closed-doors games.

Of course it wouldn’t have been so unsettling if Ireland had gotten a win or even the customary 1-1 draw but it wasn’t to be as Kenny’s team couldn’t convert the chances that came their way and seemed to run out of steam in a game that was effectively being played during pre-season for the players.

The media set up after the game meant there was no mix zone and very limited numbers at the press conference. Jason Molumby was the player brought into one of the large media rooms that was allocated to the digital media.

It was bizarre to have Molumby still wearing his sweat stained debut Ireland jersey sitting down in front of the five reporters from, and RTÉ talking us through the disappointment of a defeat on his debut.

It was hard not to believe that with the vocal support of the boys and girls in green shouting and singing in the stands the result might have been different. Encouraged by those supporters, the team would have got a boost as their energy flagged in the closing stages but it wasn’t to be.

The away play-off against Slovakia awaits Ireland in October just before the next UEFA Nations League game in the Aviva which will be the visit of Wales. We can only hope and wish that a month from now that some social distancing spectators will be allowed into the stadium.