GAA Football

Antrim could face midweek Portlaoise trip amid fixture pile-up

Antrim manager Lenny Harbinson, whose side could be facing a midweek trip to Portlaoise after the weekend's cold snap played particular havoc with Division Four.

ANTRIM could be facing a possible midweek trip to Portlaoise after the weekend’s cold snap played havoc with the scheduling for the rest of the Division Four campaign.

While all 33 counties involved in the National football and hurling leagues have been affected by having their games postponed this weekend, it has caused particular problems for those on the bottom rung of the football leagues.

All of this weekend’s games were due to be moved to next weekend, March 10/11, but London’s involvement in Division Four complicates matters.

Laois are due to travel to Ruislip next Sunday, March 11, for their round six game. It is one of only two games originally scheduled for next weekend, the other being Derry’s clash with Wexford.

A Laois official confirmed to The Irish News that, that having already paid for flights and accommodation, they had been given assurances by the GAA that game with London will not be moved.

That means Antrim’s game with Laois cannot be refixed for next weekend, and the Saffrons are due to host Carlow on March 18 followed by a final day trip to Limerick on March 25.

It is further complicated by the likelihood that at least one of, if not both, Antrim and Laois will qualify for the Division Four final, which is due to take place on March 31.

That leaves no obvious solution for the GAA’s fixture makers, who are due to confirm the new fixture list on Monday.

The only option appears to be a midweek game but that would create huge logistical problems for Antrim.

It is just shy of a three-hour drive from west Belfast to Portlaoise, but rush hour traffic heading southbound from Dublin around about the time Antrim would expect to be moving on the N7 towards Portlaoise would realistically push the journey closer to four hours.

The only alternative to having the game on a weekday appears to be playing two games in 24 hours across the same weekend, which appears completely inviable.

Speaking on Friday morning, Antrim chairman Collie Donnelly said their county board had not been contacted by Croke Park about the situation, but that a midweek game would only be manageable if Laois agreed to concede home advantage and meet halfway.

“I can’t see ourselves travelling to Portlaoise on a Wednesday night. There’s been no communication to that effect and we certainly wouldn’t be contemplating heading to Portlaoise on a Wednesday night, with all that would entail,” said Donnelly.

“You’d be thinking maybe somewhere halfway as a possibility, Armagh or Newry.

“Ultimately, it would be a big ask. I don’t think Antrim would expect Laois to come to Belfast on a Wednesday night. On a coach, it’s four hours. There’ll be lads leaving work at lunchtime and there’s a lot involved with that.

“The problem is that everything’s running into St. Patrick’s weekend, which has a full schedule. It would be a hell of an ask to go to Laois on a Wednesday night. And to be fair, the weather’s gone against them [the GAA].”

Antrim have already had two Wednesday night games this year in the McKenna Cup, the second of which was in Enniskillen, which is a mere 90-minute drive from Belfast but “a nightmare in every way”, according to Donnelly.

Down manager Eamonn Burns also bemoaned the Wednesday night in January after his team was caught in fog travelling to Celtic Park and ended up almost half an hour late, with some players not home until after 1am.

“Without having all the information I don’t really know how the schedule roll out but someone has to be looking at that and saying ‘that’s a big ask’.

“As well because it’s such a critical game for us. It’s looking like ourselves, Laois and Carlow, so that game is vitally important,” said Donnelly.

Derry’s game with Wexford had also originally been scheduled for March 11 having been brought forward a week at Wexford’s request, but that game is now likely to go on St Patrick’s weekend, with Derry travelling to Armagh for their postponed game next weekend instead.

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