MUNSTER’s Red Army face the prospect of an expensive trip to Marseille for the Heineken Cup semi-final clash against Toulon.
It is estimated that at least 12,000 – and possibly as many as 16,000 – fans will head to France’s second largest city for the match on Sunday, April 27.
While there is no direct flight from Shannon to Marseille through the usual airlines, over 1,000 seats have been made available on chartered flights to carry fans, which can be booked through travel agents.
Killester Travel, the official travel agent to Munster, is due to announce package deals from Shannon this Thursday.
Shannon Airport chief commercial officer Andrew Murphy said the airport had been “inundated with calls and emails about flights”.
“We have been working hard to get additional capacity and have been successful with the two one-day charters and the team flight, which will involve a two-night stay but which is already booked out.
Fans also have the choice of a special Ryanair service from Cork, while Aer Lingus has brought forward the start date of its summer schedule from Dublin to accommodate travelling fans.
Both airlines said it was seeing “strong demand” for the services, while Ryanair also said it was seeing strong interest in their Shannon-Nice, Dublin-Nice and Dublin-Carcassonne flights over the same weekend.
There has also been a “spike in bookings” on services from Shannon to Stanstead.
The Stade Vélodrome in Marseille will host the match and has a capacity of 41,000. Munster have been given an intial allocation of 12,000 tickets.
Munster CEO Garret Fitzgerald said this week that the tickets would be distributed through the usual network of clubs and schools in the province, before then going on sale to the public.
“We’re entitled to half of the available tickets to both clubs in any event.
“It’s very hard to put a figure on the demand but historically, in terms of our away matches, we get a lot of people from the Irish community in both the UK and Europe following us, sometimes up to as much as a 40% demand.
“I suppose if you were to logically predict the number of Munster supporters being there on the day it would probably be between 8,000 and 10,000, but you never know with Munster supporters, do you?”
Meanwhile, Limerick saw a major boost from the home quarter-final match against Toulouse last Saturday, with a carnival atmosphere filling the city off the back of the home side’s trouncing of the French aristocrats.
With the home fixture and a full Thomond Park - plus thousands of travelling French fans - leading to an economic boost in the region of €6m-€10m, the impact was significant.
While the Toulouse fans had little to shout about in the 47-23, one fan, Hugues Launay, told this newspaper that it had long been a “dream” of his to visit Thomond Park.
“I dreamt to come to Thomond Park and it is fantastic. The sound, the atmosphere, the Red Army were fantastic. The fans are always very friendly, there is no problem.”
Brian Murphy, who runs the Curragower Pub where Heineken erected a massive tent for the match, said it was “our best Heineken Cup day” in terms of trade.
“It was our most successful match day. The Saturday kick-off is the key. There was loads of Toulouse fans mingling with Munster fans and there was a great atmosphere,” he said.