Postcard from a home Europa League Final

Final ambassador John O’Shea brings the Europa League Trophy onto the pitch prior to the 2024 UEFA Europa League Final between Atalanta BC (ITA) vs Bayer 04 Leverkusen (GER) on May 22, 2024 in the Dublin Arena, Ireland.

Final ambassador John O’Shea brings the Europa League Trophy onto the pitch prior to the 2024 UEFA Europa League Final between Atalanta BC (ITA) vs Bayer 04 Leverkusen (GER) on May 22, 2024 in the Dublin Arena, Ireland. Credit: Conor Ryan (ETPhotos)

Macdara Ferris reports from Dublin

On Saturday afternoon in Berlin, Bayer Leverkusen completed their domestic double by winning the DFB-Pokal to go with the club’s first ever Bundesliga title.

It meant Die Werkself went undefeated in 52 games of their 53 match season but their one loss was in last Wednesday’s Europa League Final against Atalanta.

The final in Dublin will live long in the memory for those who were there including this reporter. I was wondering would the final be slightly underwhelming when it was one on my doorstep where I could walk 15 minutes from my office and straight into the stadium.

There was to be no disappointment however. I’ve been lucky enough to cover a number of UEFA finals with and this one ranks right up there.

For all the games I’ve attended previously at the ‘Dublin Arena’, this was one of best atmospheres (the stadium rebranding went beyond just removing the massive AVIVA sign from the stadium’s east façade but included removing all the ads above the urinals in the gents). 

The best nights in the Aviva have been some of the ones when the up to 5,000 away fans helped generate the atmosphere.

Well Wednesday’s game was the equivalent of having four times that and more.

Leverkusen took up their full 12,000 allocation with Atalanta taking a slightly smaller amount of tickets. The bulk of the travelling support was in the ground and singing when I took my seat in the press box 90 minutes before kick off.

From early in the day the Leverkusen fans began to arrive in Ringsend with buses from the airport dropping them off at their fan zone in the Shelbourne Park Greyhound Stadium (the public funded Greyhound industry helping out football supporters for once). On the opposite side of the stadium, the RDS was the venue for the Italian fans.

Irish football fans do cynical quite well but chatting to the people I knew who were working on the match day including those who volunteered (giving up their time for two t-shirts, a hoody and assorted match tat) and those who had match tickets this was an event that they all enjoyed.

I met a lot of League of Ireland fans who were helping out for the event. There was the Bohs man who supplied my match accreditation, a Shamrock Rovers supporter working in the media room and a Dundalk fan who was one of those on microphone duty in the press conference room.

I had a flashback to the 2011 Europa League final between Porto and Braga as that was a role I fulfilled in the media centre back then. That final was one that was certainly underwhelming. Two Portuguese teams limited those who travelled – with the stadium far from full.

The event seemed to get lost amongst the other high profile visitors to Dublin that week – the Queen of England and the President of the USA. This time the only thing lost was the match day posters having to battle it out with all the European and Local Election posters on all the lampposts.

The opening ceremony was thankfully short and devoid of too much diddley-eye.

The cast was made up of 150 Dubliners who took part, according to UEFA, ‘in a complex, choreographed routine with original music themed around the Europa League energy wave brand concept, reflecting the emotion and dynamism of the tournament.’

The noise from the supporters didn’t stop throughout the game.

The second half ‘call-and-response’ from the Atalanta supporters nearly lifted the roof off the stadium and despite being 3-0 down the Leverkusen fans didn’t let up and stayed for the trophy presentation rather than leaving to grab another beer before heading to their chartered flights home.

The whole event was a good run through for what EURO 2028 will be like – particularly any matches not involving Ireland. The number of Gardaí around the city centre and the stadium was staggering. There was airport style screening for those of us going in the media entrance.

The borrowed watercannon from the PSNI thankfully didn’t have to be used and sure there wasn’t even any chislers who got on the pitch looking for a selfie or a jersey.

UEFA were so pleased with it all they released a gushing statement about the event and sure we will take that:

‘UEFA would like to extend heartfelt thanks to Atalanta BC, Bayer 04 Leverkusen and all the fans who participated in the UEFA Europa League final in Dublin. Your passion and enthusiasm created a brilliant atmosphere, making the event truly unforgettable.

Special thanks go to the FAI, local authorities, and all the services participating in the match organisation. Your hard work and dedication were instrumental in making everybody feel safe and welcome.’

The story in the buildup to the match was of course about ‘Kells native’ Xabi Alonso returning to Ireland and leading his invincible team through a season unbeaten.

It didn’t work out that way but people could get behind this non-catenaccio Italian team and the Wandsworth wunderkind Ademola Lookman who scored a wonderful hat-trick to earn Gian Peirro Gasperini’s side the club’s first ever European trophy.

Speaking in the post-match press conference Alonso switching with ease from German to English said: “We lost in such a big game so it hurts for sure but we need to deal with this pain in a positive way to give us good energy for the next game.”

His side did just that to win the club’s first ever double after Atalanta picked up their first ever European trophy. It all meant ultimately everyone went home happy including those of us who really didn't have far to travel.