The twelve stadia on the long list of the bid to stage the World Cup have been determined on foot of a survey of suitability undertaken by the same company, Wilson Owens, that managed London 2012 and the Rugby World Cup 2015 and 2019 venue selection process.
That alone is a powerful statement of doing things the right way and also gives a sense of domestic cover for any feathers ruffled by omission.
The twelve stadia and their respective capacities are:
Croke Park, Dublin with a capacity of 83,200 and likely host for the final and probably the two semi finals. In an ideal world it would also host the opening ceremony and fixture but that would nudge very close to the All Ireland Final season, even were that to be brought forward a number of weeks. The additional time from mid September to end October that this would afford would be well worth accommodating, even if it did have a marginal impact on revenue from ticket sales.
Aviva Stadium, Dublin with a capacity of 51,000 and the home of Irish Rugby. It is likely that this would be the host stadium for Ireland’s matches so as to accommodate the greatest potential number of home fans though bringing the team to the provinces for a likely ‘third game’ in the group stage against a lesser nation would also have some attraction. The pitch is well used to standing up under there strain of multiple quick turn arounds and that is another major positive. Would the prospect of a World Cup Finals perhaps tempt Aviva to extend their naming rights as well?
Pairc Ui Caoimh in Cork with a new build under way and a capacity forecast for 45,770. This is most likely to take an Irish game outside the Capital and will be the third marquee stadium to accommodate the biggest crowds.
Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney will nudge Thomond Park into being the third stadium of choice for the tournament in the rugby heartland of Munster. It has a capacity of 38,200. Rumours circulating already around the town are that England have already made a provisional booking of a major hotel in the town and part of this will be the construction of new rugby facilities on the site. Regardless of the games Killarney will be high on the list for travelling fans and has the capacity to be a real star of the tournament.
Casement Park in Belfast is the second GAA ground currently under way as regards planning and building though with a few more hurdles to overcome than in Cork. With a capacity of 34,500 that will be almost twice that of Kingspan Park, the likelihood is that this will be the central point of Northern Ireland’s co-hosting, in political and financial terms, of the tournament.
Pearse Stadium in Galway is the flag bearer for the West with a capacity of 34,000. There will be some disappointment in Connacht Rugby circles that the bid has not been used as a lightning rod for development of a new or improved home for Connacht Rugby though in all honesty when that comes it will not be of the same size or capacity as is need for the World Cup.
McHale Park in Castlebar was perhaps the surprise package of the long list. It does provide the seventh largest capacity ground with 31,000 which is a major tick in the box and was mooted as a potential stadium as far back as the launch of the bid team. It is more than political positioning despite handily being in the Taoiseach’s constituency and does give a nice regional balance.
Thomond Park in Limerick has a great spiritual resonance and is a certainty for the final short list though with the smaller capacity of 26,800 it is unlikely to the biggest of matches.
Nowlan Park in Kilkenny provides some regional balance in Leinster. It has a capacity of 26,000 and good access as well as accommodation but if the final list of venues is to be reduced it is likely on the edge.
RDS Arena in Dublin will have completed its redevelopment and risen in capacity to 21,000 well in advance of the tournament. Only a long fly kick away from the Aviva Stadium is does concentrate resource in the capital but is still almost certain to make the final shortlist.
Kingspan Stadium in Belfast will be the host stadium for the Women’s Rugby World Cup Final in August 2017, a tournament likely to play a key role in persuading World Rugby of Ireland’s organisational capacity. It has already hosted the first destination Guinness Pro12 Final and is well known to Northern Ireland’s political elite including First Minister Arlene Foster.
Celtic Park in Derry is the smallest capacity stadium on the list and while it provides geographical and regional balance at this stage is perhaps the most likely to drop off a list unless the tournament is expanded to accommodate more teams.
The two stadia that were put forward as likely venues but that did not make the cut are the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick and Semple Stadium in Thurles. between them they could have provided over 100,000 capacity which will make a difference to ticket revenues that are crucial for the host as opposed to World Rugby but issues of concentration in relation to Limerick and capacity of accommodation for Thurles are the likely reason for their being omitted.
One of the biggest challenges facing the bid team will be whether standing room is seen as a positive or a negative by voters. England 2015, largely because of legal restrictions dating back to Hillsborough provided a fully seated experience. To do so at the eight GAA grounds in particular would be a costly exercise and one that would impact on numbers but that is undoubtedly an area where there are contingency plans in place.
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