The Ireland v Scotland match was enjoyed by Kate McEvoy from the comfort of the Aviva Fan Studio, here is her account…
It's been an up and down few weeks but the call I got last Wednesday would be a highlight at the best of times. I was lucky enough to be invited to the Aviva Fan Studio to watch Ireland 6 Nations opener in the company of Paddy Barnes, Dan Parks and David Wallace. Never one to pass up the opportunity to make a fool of myself in front of one of my all-time sporting heroes and somewhat concerned they would soon recognize their mistake in inviting me, I said yes with alacrity.
The Aviva Fan Studio is an all day experience. After meeting with my fellow few fortunate fans, we were treated to a tour of the stadium and a trip pitchside to watch the team warm-up, including an extremely bronzed Jonny Sexton's kicking practice. The main difficulty is keeping a straight face when you bump into ROG by the lift or standing beside Keith Wood while waiting for the team bus to arrive. Everyone was just going about their typical match-day business, whether they be retired rugby superstars or one of the army of various employees that makes the Aviva tick on match day. However the combination of star spotting and a backstage pass to the heart of the Palindrome certainly makes a unique experience for any mere mortal. I was just trying not to stare.
Watching the match in the Aviva Fan Studio is like being inside a bubble with the best view in the house. You've an unimpeded aspect but the sound-proofing means only the crowd's most vocal moments can be heard. Getting a blow-by-blow commentary in your ear from Dan Parks aka the only one in the studio who was rooting for Scotland makes up for it though!
Despite being in the company of two highly decorated rugby players, it quickly became clear that the toughest man in the room was the one attending his first match, Paddy Barnes. We all know boxers are tough, but talking to Paddy and hearing his insights on the panel makes you realise that what you see in the ring is only a fraction of what you face. He had half a stone to shed to make weight before an upcoming fight in Germany on Friday where there wasn't a pick to lose, fights 4 bouts in 4 days instead of two matches in 6 during his tournaments and does it all on his own. It was an interesting to have an outsider's insights in a rugby-mad room and ironically, the test debutant's match prediction of 30-16 to Ireland was by far the closest on the panel!
Clinically unable to keep my mouth shut when the opportunity to talk about rugby presents itself, I soon managed to mark myself out as “the girl who knows things”, which is probably the closest I'll ever come to having a superpower so I might as well run with it. As part of an audience of 8 there's plenty of opportunity to ask questions both a part of the panel discussions, pre and post match, as well as at half time and in a more impromptu manner during the game itself, as well as hearing observations from the expert panel and fellow fans via social media.
I consider every international I get to go to a lucky break. I know that it's a privilege that not every rugby fan gets to experience. For a truly unique perspective, as well as a great day out, I'd recommend keeping an eye on the Aviva Stadium Facebook page here, so you too can have the opportunity to drop a clanger in front of David Wallace, which maintains my 100% record on that front. Hopefully both Ireland and I can kick on from there and remain undefeated in our chosen fields, or in my case, the field that has chosen me. Sigh. I think on balance I prefer being “the girl who knows things”.
Kate McEvoy : Munster fan in a sea of Leinster blue. Raised on a strict diet of Bective Rangers. Earliest childhood memory is stud marks in the muck. Former hooker for a father & a mother with an eye for a forward pass bordering on freakish . Best rugby memory, Toulouse main square, May 24, 2008. Epitaph will read “Knew a lot about rugby for a girl.” Can be found tweeting optimistically at @ImKateMc