The countdown to the UEFA Europa League final in Dublin has begun in earnest after the trophy was handed over to the host city during a ceremony at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham.
Article top media content
Dublin is now in possession of the UEFA Europa League trophy after UEFA President Michel Platini handed the silverware over to the host city for this season's final.
Wednesday 18 May is the date when the final comes to the Republic of Ireland's capital – and the Dublin Arena – and a month-long build-up to the big game began with today's trophy handover at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham.
"Five years ago we began this journey when we met the Football Association of Ireland and the Irish Prime Minister and it is a very good idea for the UEFA Europa League to come to Dublin," said Mr Platini as he passed the trophy on to Dublin's lord mayor, Gerry Breen.
The historic nature of Dublin's first European club final, as well as the cultural heritage of the host city, was underlined by the venue for the handover ceremony: the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, a 17th-century building which now houses the Irish Museum of Modern Art.
Mr Breen said that his city of 1.5 million people would be offering a huge welcome to the UEFA Europa League. "Irish football fans have travelled the world supporting the Republic of Ireland but this is the first time that an event like this has come to our shores and this will be a major occasion for the city," he said. "Dublin holds big sporting events all the time but this has a truly international aspect, and that will add to the flavour of it all."
During the run-up to the final, the Irish public will also be able to see the trophy on show at various venues across the capital. "The trophy itself is now in the hands of Dublin and it will go on display in a number of sites around the city, from the new terminal at Dublin airport to the General Post Office in the city," Mr Breen added.
Club Atlético de Madrid, winners of last season's inaugural UEFA Europa League final in Hamburg, were represented in Dublin by the Spanish club's defender Álvaro Domínguez. Although the holders' grip on the trophy was loosened conclusively in the group stage this term, Domínguez will be watching with interest as the campaign reaches a climax over the next four weeks. "There are four very good teams left in the competition [SL Benfica, SC Braga, FC Porto and Villarreal CF]," Domínguez said.
Former Republic of Ireland and Liverpool FC player Ronnie Whelan, meanwhile, was present as UEFA Europa League final ambassador and said he was delighted to see the trophy come to his home town.
"This is something that will mean so much to the young kids who are starting to play football now. When I was growing up here in Dublin in the 1960s, you would never have dreamed about something like a European final coming to the city, and now we have that opportunity."
With an estimated 24,000 travelling supporters expected for the final, plus a television audience in the tens of million, the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) hopes the event will be a showcase for Ireland.
"It's a wonderful opportunity for Dublin but also a chance to leave a legacy for the next generation of footballers," said FAI chief executive John Delaney.