Dry Dublin scores an early own goal

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THE GREATEST day in Ireland's football calendar - the national team's debut World Cup match against Italy - began with a massive blow for the thousands of fans staying on home turf to watch the game yesterday, Alan Murdoch writes, when 3,000 Dublin bar workers voted to go on strike immediately.

The employers' Licensed Vintners Association claimed hundreds of bars would remain open for business. But after 17 hours of talks, John Douglas of Mandate, the bar staff union, claimed 75 per cent of the city's pubs would be affected last night by the dispute over pay and pensions. But the early own goal did not mean an entirely dry day. All over the city big screens had been installed in bars not affected by the dispute, theatres and clubs.

In the vast exhibition hall at the Royal Dublin Society, 3,000 noisy fans flocked to see the game on four giant screens amid Yankee-style razzmatazz.

Last night bus services stopped at 8pm. Anticipating sardine-can crowding, many bars that did open, some charging IR pounds 8 entrance fee, had signs saying: 'Doors close 5pm; match 9pm.'

Ten of Ireland's government ministers are in America, where the World Cup is being held. But Prime Minister Albert Reynolds, who is also there, has denied suggestions that their trips have been timed for the World Cup and insists they are on long- scheduled official business.