Dublin hospitality offers special K for Ryder Cup

Barry Newcombe reports from the 28th UEPS Congress in Dublin

From ground level at the K Club in County Kildare, staging post for the 2006 Ryder Cup between Europe and the United States in September, to the press level at Croke Park in central Dublin where Ireland will play soccer and rugby for the first time next year, delegates to the 28th congress of European sportswriters had contrasting and impressive views of two major presentation points of sport in Ireland.

Ireland will be staging the Ryder Cup for the first time and 1,100 journalists will be heading for the K Club at Straffan, Co Kildare, for this fascinating contest which is set to take place on the Arnold Palmer-designed course before crowds expected to be in the region of 40-50,000 each day.

The intense competition will be played out in one of the great settings of world golf with the players based at the heart of the course at Straffan House – the Europeans at one end of this 69-bedroom house, the Americans at the other. The surrounding golf course is within 550 acres of parkland through which the River Liffey flows on its way to Dublin.

This looks certain to be a classic Ryder Cup match and there is a huge logistical progamme in place to meet the demands of the media and spectators. Although we were told that it is possible to drive from central Dublin to the K Club in little more than half an hour on a good day, the organisers know they have to tackle the movement of thousands of people, and a vast traffic control system will be in place.

Accredited media will be taken in and out of the course with a police escort from their bases in Dublin or in the Citywest area where many hotels are available.

The K Club is between the main Dublin-Cork and Dublin-Galway highways and spectators are being urged to use the variety of park and ride centres unless there are fortunate enough to hitch a ride on one of the 300 helicopter journeys which are expected to take place each day.

The complex will come under full security conditions from three months ahead of competition and by then much of the initial planning and later refinements to the course will be complete. Once the K Club knew it would be the venue for the Ryder Cup each hole was examined in great detail. May and September are the best months for grass growth at the K Club and there is no question that the course will be visually brilliant as the TV pictures go around the world from the 30 TV towers linked by 30 miles of cable and 15 miles of fibre optic cable.

“You will see a lot of creativity around the greens,”said K Club professional John McHenry. “We want to create a spectacle.” The course will be of 7335 yards and McHenry predicted that the European players will be well used to the conditions which are presented to them from the 1,000 extra trees from Belgium onwards.

The whole complex has wireless broadband internet access and a full strength mobile phone signal.

Croke Park presented a real contrast but is equally stunning in its own way, an 82,300 capacity stadium set amongst cramped streets and with housing up to its perimeter. It is historically significant in Ireland because it is the home of the country’s unique national games of hurling and Gaelic football- and the history of their formation and growth is clearly presented in the Gaelic Athletic Association Museum within the complex.

Croke Park is within a 15-minute walk of the centre of Dublin and is served by a number of bus routes. Connolly and Drumcondra rail stations are nearby.

The press box is on level seven which is 11 storeys above ground level, one of the highest positions many writers will experience. There is a dedicated press entrance to the stadium with lifts and escalators to the Press level.

Refreshments, but not alcohol, are available by voucher – the reason for the vouchers, the story goes, is that one visitor “took enough sandwiches for his daughter’s wedding”.

Press seating is currently 100 but could be increased to 300 if necesssary when Ireland play their rugby matches against France and England in the Six Nations’ Championship in February 2007 and the football World Cup qualifier against Wales in March. By then a second large TV screen will be in operation at the stadium. Press seats will also have TV monitors and full communication links. Mobile phone signal is good. Eircom broadband is available.

Post match interviews will take place at a conference room next to the dressing rooms. There is a photo centre at ground level.

The grassed area of Croke Park is 144 by 87 metres. Rugby is expected to take 100 by 68 metres, football 105 by 70 metres. The 82,300 crowd will be 69,500 seated and 12,800 on the terrace for rugby. Soccer crowds are still under consideration at the stadium which is the fourth largest in Europe behind Noucamp, Bernabau and San Siro.

The UEPS congress was hosted by the Association of Sports Journalists in Ireland with president Peter Byrne and UEPS delegate Jimmy Magee present at each segment of the three day programme.”We are sure that we can stage an event which is worthy of the occasion in terms of both the formal business of the Congress and the more social aspects of a gathering of Europe’s sports journalists in a country and city which is famed for its hospitality,”Byrne had promised. He was right in all aspects with Jury’s Hotel at Ballsbridge presenting excellent facilities and accommodation.

Hospitality included dinner at the AIB centre and many delegates went on to discover other aspects of Irish social life in the great variety of bars in the area close to Jury’s Hotel. The ASJI deserve congratulations for their dedication, organisation and unfailing good humour and so does Teresa Mooney of Wilson Hartnell Public Relations, Dublin, for the same qualities.

UEPS Executive Committee members had an early treat with a reception given by the Ireland President, Mary McAleese, on April 6 at her residence in Phoenix Park.

President McAleese is a former journalist who had worked with Jimmy Magee. “We are all Europeans, you are very welcome here,” the President told delegates before joining her staff in serving the committee members with tea, coffee, scones and biscuits. A presentation was made to the President by out-going UEPS President Leif Neilsson of Sweden and also by AIPS President, Gianni Merlo.

The committee members were taken on a tour of the historic residence which included “down to earth” tales of previous visits, including one by a kindergarten group the day after new carpets, which had taken six workers nine months to make by hand, had been laid. One over-excited youngster was sick on the the new expensive floor covering but President McAleese, a mother of three, treated the incident “sensitively”.

Another country visitor from an Irish village was told that the prized Italian marble fireplace in one room was worth in excess of half a million pounds sterling and had to be brought a chair and a glass of water as he revealed he had a similar fireplace in his farm cottage!

With 33 countries represented at the congress there was a great variety of discussion and input and on behalf of the Sports Journalists’ Association of Great Britain I passed on greetings to the assembly and said that work had started that week on re-routing power cables at the London 2012 Olympic Park. I also told the delegates that the SJA would hold regular briefings with Sebastian Coe, leader of the London bid.

UEPS is now headed by by Jerzy Jakobsche of Poland who defeated Steen Ankerdal of Denmark by 20 votes to 13 in the election of president. “It was not a vote for me, it is a vote for UEPS, for our future,”insisted Jakobsche. Morley Myers of Great Britain continues as Secretary-General after being returned unopposed after 12 years in office.

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