GAA Football

Player and spectator safety priority in McKenna Cup call-offs

Armagh’s clash with Derry was the first of three Dr McKenna Cup games to fall victim to icy weather when referee Martin McNally declared the pitch unplayable after a final inspection just after 1.40pm.
Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
From Cahair O'Kane at the Athletic Grounds

THE Ulster Council said player and spectator safety was the priority after late decisions to postpone half of its McKenna Cup programme in the minutes before throw-in yesterday.

Armagh’s clash with Derry was the first of the three games to fall victim when referee Martin McNally declared the pitch unplayable after a final inspection just after 1.40pm.

The game was originally set for 2pm, although Ulster GAA had tweeted just after 1pm that throw-in would be delayed for 30 minutes until 2.30pm.

There were only a very small handful of supporters in the Athletic Grounds at the time, though others were just arriving as news broke that the game had been postponed.

The goalmouth at one end was the focus for the officials, although even central parts of the pitch that looked to have defrosted from a distance were still rock solid when the game was called off.

A similar decision followed soon after in Burren, with the goalmouths also the focus of attention as Down’s game with Ulster University was pulled at just after 1.55pm. That game had also been put back to 2.30pm.

Monaghan’s clash with Donegal was the last of the three casualties, with a call to postpone the game in Clones made just after 2.05pm. It had been moved back until 2.15pm but was eventually postponed because of concern over one corner of the St Tiernach’s Park pitch.

Ulster PRO Michael Geoghegan said the provincial body “regretted the inconvenience caused to the people travelling” but that weather conditions earlier in the day had suggested the games may have been able to go ahead.

“Player safety and welfare are paramount to the match officials and that’s why the game was called off,” he said of the Armagh-Derry clash.

“In fairness they gave it until the last minute, and they have to regret the inconvenience caused to the people travelling here, but unfortunately weather’s something you cannot legislate for.

“[They gave it until 1.40pm] because of the way the pitch was thawing out. When we came here at 9.30am, there was a good coating of frost right throughout the ground, but that quickly dispersed because there was a strong sun and we were hopeful at that stage.

“The referee was here at 12.30pm and he was very hopeful at that stage that the pitch would be playable. In fairness the ground staff tried everything in their power to clear the frost, but the goalmouth itself was too dangerous and we were afraid of somebody getting hurt.

“We called the game back this morning by half an hour, we’d said we were going to delay the throw-in to give everybody time, to make sure people would get here on time and to give the pitch every opportunity that it would be playable.

“The teams would have liked the game to have gone ahead had it been possible, and I’m sure the supporters that travelled would have had the same view, as would we. Safety is most important for everybody.”

Ulster CCC will meet later today to thrash out a new schedule for the rest of the competition, with the likelihood being that the postponed games will be pencilled in for Wednesday night.

That would mean the final round of group games would move to the weekend, most likely into the Sunday afternoon slot that’s currently designated for the semi-finals, which would then also move to the following midweek.

But with the cold weather set to continue this week, it could yet play further havoc with attempts to have the McKenna Cup finished on schedule on Saturday, January 20.

“Weather permitting, everything’s realistic, but we can’t legislate for the weather,” said Geoghegan.

“We’ll have to work within those possibilities and whatever the weather forecast is, as Ulster Council always do. We’d be hopeful.

“Player and spectator safety is the most important thing to everybody involved – we don’t want to take people out if the weather’s going to be bad, and we don’t want players to get hurt or injured.”

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