Omagh buzzing ahead of Tyrone v Dublin championship showdown
Omagh is buzzing ahead of the arrival of thousands of Dublin GAA fans for tomorrow's mouth-watering 'Super 8' clash with Tyrone. Suzanne McGonagle samples the atmosphere ahead of the big match
IT has all the ingredients of a classic.
Start with GAA-mad Tyrone, add in the defending All-Ireland champions Dublin and mix together at Healy Park in Omagh to create a mouth-watering clash between the two old rivals.
With just a day to go before the Dubs play their first ever championship match in the north, the stakes are high with a place in the All-Ireland semi-finals up for grabs.
The winners will be virtually assured a place in the final four, with both teams having won their opening games in the new round-robin 'Super 8s' format at Croke Park last weekend.
The showdown at a sold-out 18,000 capacity Healy Park will be a very different experience for Dublin, who invariably play their big championship games at GAA headquarters.
And as coach companies prepare to transport thousands of supporters across the border for crunch game, preparations are being put in place in hotels, restaurants and pubs in the Co Tyrone town as it gears up for an invasion of football fans.
At the Silverbirch Hotel, just a stone's throw from Healy Park, there's an expectation of large numbers coming through the doors over the weekend.
The Gortin Road venue is always a hub for GAA fans ahead of matches and tomorrow's clash is no different - the 64 bedrooms are completely booked out with a growing cancellation list as the week has gone on.
"We are fully booked and most are Dublin supporters who will be staying with us," the hotel said.
"We have a tour of 12 in all week but I think the rest staying on Saturday night are from Dublin.
"Going by any other game, which are usually a Saturday, we expect to get a lot of passing trade also.
"We're only a two-minute walk from Healy park, so people will be calling in on the way to the match or afterwards. It will be crazy."
In the heart of Omagh, regardless of the score, glasses will be clinking and music will be blasting on Saturday night.
At Rue on Main Street, demand for accommodation has also been huge.
"We could have sold out our bedrooms twice over," a spokeswoman said.
"We have 13 bedrooms and the majority of booking are from Dublin, both for Friday and Saturday nights. There were a couple of cancellations last week, but they were quickly filled up.
"It's been unreal and we are expecting big crowds. We will be showing the match and there will be drinks, performance and music so it will be a busy night."
Police have warned of traffic disruption in the Omagh area with supporters expected to start gathering from 5.30pm onwards.
Tyrone v Dublin - traffic and travel advice
Fans have been urged to use town centre car parks and walk to the game in a bid to reduce congestion.
A PSNI spokesman said: "Motorists intending to travel to, or through Omagh on that day should allow extra time for their journey, and spectators should get to the game early.
"Those who are not attending the GAA event are asked to avoid the general Gortin Road area, particularly during peak flow periods of 5.30pm to 7pm, and from 8.30pm to 9.15pm.
"Police officers and GAA marshals will be active to ensure that the car parks closest to the ground will be filled first.
"Police would advise people to make maximum use of town centre car parks and that supporters walk to the game, where possible. This will allow safe access after the game to exit routes from the town and also easy access on to homeward routes."
As anticipation for the big Super 8s tie builds, for Co Tyrone-born broadcaster Lynette Fay it will be a case of one ear to her live radio show and the other to the match.
"No joke, I'm working on Saturday right when the game is on so I'll be cheering on from the studio when I'm on air," the radio host said.
"I sit with my headphones on with the show in one ear and the other to the game. I'll be playing a few songs in a row so I don't miss the score. I probably give a bit too much listening to the game, especially if it's a close one."
Like all Tyrone fans, Ms Fay knows the significance of tomorrow's game in Omagh.
"I'm a big Gaelic fan, you have no choice when you're from Tyrone," the Dungannon woman said.
"I realised early on in life I wasn't going to be a GAA star, I left the camogie to my more talented cousins - of course there's GAA history in my family, my dad's brother Jim Fay played in the 1970s.
"But it's a great community spirit in the GAA in Tyrone, it gives you a sense of who you are and a sense of belonging and when you it's going well, when you're onto winning ways, there's no better feeling.
"No team goes out to lose a match, you can't go out with that attitude, but the Dubs are going to be a different gravy on Saturday.
"This is a massive deal and we're playing the best team of this generation, they're coming to Healy Park and we know how good they are.
"I hope it's going to be a good game, I heard on the news that it's mostly Dubs coming, which I think is fantastic.
"They will be travelling north and get to experience a bit of what Omagh and the county has to offer.
"Omagh is a great town, it will be buzzing on Saturday night and anyone coming out will be able to experience the music in Omagh, which is unbelievable. It will be heaving.
"I will be so excited and hoping for a win, I know I'm going to have to rein myself in, but it's a big event, I should be allowed to get carried away."