GAA Football

Devenney criticises decision to overlook Celtic Park in favour of Breffni

Celtic Park has not hosted a neutral Ulster SFC since its redevelopment a decade ago, and was overlooked for Tyrone v Donegal despite its apparent geographical advantages for supporters. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin.

FORMER Donegal star Brendan Devenney has hit out at Ulster Council's decision to host his county's provincial semi-final tie with Tyrone in Cavan rather than Derry.

The sides will meet on Saturday, June 8 in Kingspan Breffni, with throw-in set for 5pm. Ulster GAA had announced the venues for both semi-finals last week, before the teams playing in the second game were confirmed.

It was widely expected that Tyrone and Donegal would be the two to progress, but the call was made early to set the game for Breffni.

A spokesperson for Ulster Council told The Irish News that Ulster CCC were unable to debate the merits of anywhere other than Clones or Breffni as those were the only two venues proposed to them at the meeting.

In order for a venue to be considered, it must be proposed and seconded at a CCC meeting by county delegates or elected Ulster Council officers.

None of the Tyrone, Donegal or Derry delegates proposed Celtic Park as a potential venue, despite apparently obvious geographical advantages of hosting the game in the city.

Even from the southern end of Donegal, the journey times to Cavan and Derry are almost identical. However, from Gaoth Dobhair in the west of the county, it's 110 miles to Cavan and just 48 miles to Derry.

From the north of the county, it's also around 110 miles, compared to a 20 mile journey in to Derry city.

The contrast in distances to the two venues from outposts in Tyrone is far less stark. It's 47 miles from Ballygawley to Cavan, and just 51 miles from there to Derry.

At its closest point, Strabane is just 15 miles from the Maiden City, as opposed to 72 miles from Breffni Park.

Devenney believes that the combination of live TV coverage and the Saturday evening throw-in would offset any need for a venue larger than Celtic Park, which holds approximately 18,000 at full capacity, but has not hosted a neutral Ulster SFC tie since its redevelopment a decade ago.

Even in an era when they've been at each other's throats over major silverware, that would have accommodated four of the counties' last seven championship meetings. Their Super 8s game in Ballybofey last year was played in front of 16,242 fans, which was shy of the 17,519 in MacCumhaill Park in 2013.

The St Eunan's clubman questioned the decision-making process and feels supporters weren't properly taken into account.

“You'd think it would just be debated by the CCC where it should be rather than having to be proposed by the counties. That you'd have five or six guys around a table who'd say ‘where will we hold this?' and debate it,” said Devenney.

“Cavan is some spin. Whatever about anybody in Tyrone, you take somebody in west Donegal, you're on about a four-hour job. It's a joke.

“For people from Falcarragh or Malin Head or Glencolmcille, that is a monster drive to Cavan.

“Even from Letterkenny, Cavan's a two-and-a-half hour job. It's half an hour to Derry. From anywhere in Donegal, it's a trip that wouldn't take it out of you, whereas the trip to Cavan, no harm, the roads through Fermanagh, it's a poor drive up and down.

“I don't know if they thought Celtic Park was a bit small crowd wise, but geographically it's perfect.

“Derry would have been packed, there'd have been a great atmosphere and everybody could have got home at a decent hour.

“I wouldn't take a family or kids to Cavan at that time. It's too far.

“If you change venues because you think you'll need a bigger venue, you'll end up with the crowd getting cut because of the TV and the travel putting people off.”

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