kicking off

Letter from Versailles: Paris hit with problems as Euros kick off but all calm in Ireland camp

Ben Blake sums up the mood in France after the team’s first couple of days.

A view of training Ireland's open training session yesterday. Donall Farmer / INPHO Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

Ben Blake reporting from Versailles 

ON THE MORNING of the Euro 2016 kick-off, you get the sense that preparations could be going a little smoother in the host country’s capital city.

Between the Stade de France and the Parc des Princes, 12 of the 51 matches at the finals will be played in Paris – including the opening game (which pits France against Romania this evening) and the final on 10 July.

Yet there are a number of ongoing disputes that threaten to severely hamper the match-day experience of the hundreds of thousands of fans who are planning to visit over the next four weeks.

State rail company SNCF is in its 11th day of strikes across the country with the French government currently attempting to solve the issue by reaching an agreement, but industrial action scheduled for today looks set to affect many of those travelling to the tournament’s curtain-raiser.

Visitors may also have noticed (and smelled) many streets lined with mounds of rubbish piled on top of uncollected bins over the past couple of days, as the CGT union continues its protest against controversial plans to reform labour law.

France Strikes Bins stacked high on the streets of Paris. AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Elsewhere, Air France pilots have promised four days of strikes starting Saturday after talks between management and unions broke down.

Then there was the small matter of the worst floods to hit Paris in 100 years, which burst the banks of the Seine last week. It’s safe to say the timing of it all is far from ideal. 

The ongoing threat of another terrorist attack also remains a real one with the whole country on high alert since the events of seven months ago.

On 13 November, 2015, the same night that Ireland went some way to booking their place at the finals with a play-off first leg draw with Bosnia in Zenica, several gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people and wounded hundred of others in Paris.

The presence of heavily-armed military units in most public places serve as a chilling reminder of those security fears but it’s in our nature to just get on with things and you don’t tend to dwell on the ‘what ifs’ for too long. 

Just 22 kilometres outside the city, tucked away in the affluent suburb of Versailles, Ireland have been putting the final touches to their assault on Group E.

Unlike at major tournaments of the past, there can be few complaints about the location that was chosen to put up the team and its management staff.

A city that is known worldwide for its château, Versailles was the centre of French political power under Louis XIV for a period up until the French Revolution of 1789.

Republic of Ireland Team Base - Euro 2016 - Versailles Ireland's team bus parked inside the gates of Trianon Palace, where the team are staying. Chris Radburn Chris Radburn

And while Martin O’Neill and his team aren’t staying at the Palace of Versailles, the nearby Trianon Palace doesn’t appear to be much of a step down in terms of luxury.

The 119-room hotel is surrounded by a woodland retreat and comes with the Guerlain spa with a private hammam, steam rooms and a heated indoor swimming pool, as well as Gordon Ramsey’s Michelin-star restaurant.

The team received a warm welcome at the Stade de Montbauron yesterday, as their training ground was packed full of French school children and bands of Irish supporters for an open session – their first since arriving.

Jon Walters was the only player not involved as he battles to prove his fitness for the match-up with Sweden. O’Neill would love to have the current international Player of the Year involved for the opener and it’s a news line that is sure to run right up until Monday evening.

Otherwise, there was a fairly relaxed mood around the camp yesterday and, having given the players the past two weekends off to spend as they like, the Derryman has continued his policy of breaking up the monotony by cancelling this morning’s training duties.

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