GAA Football

Declan Bonner confident Ballybofey will be ready to host fans

Donegal manager Declan Bonner is not keen on conceding home advantage for what looks almost certain to be a straight knockout Ulster SFC tie against Tyrone. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

Donegal manager Declan Bonner believes that the championship will be played in front of spectators later in the year and says they aren’t planning to concede home advantage for their tie with Tyrone.

The Tír Chonaill men are due to face their rivals in fortress MacCumhaill Park, where the Red Hands were exceptionally rare victors when the sides met in the Super 8s decider in 2018.

The GAA are still aiming to have spectators at matches, with president John Horan earlier this week revealing they still hoped for up to 42,000 at headquarters as long as social distancing regulations are relaxed.

Reports have suggested that Ulster GAA have already broached the idea of playing the provincial final in Croke Park, but there has been no indication of venues for earlier championship games.

Bonner, whose job is as a wine specialist, believes the hospitality trade offers hope that fans will be allowed in to watch games when they resume.

“From October time, the way things are going at the minute and hopefully they keep going that way, hopefully social distancing will step down a wee bit.

“The hospitality sector is opening at the end of the month and it looks like the two-metre gap will be reduced.

“I think there’s no doubt you’ll have attendances at these matches, you will have them, and I see no reason why I’d be giving up playing in MacCumhaill Park.”

The Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) are expected to finalise the format of the championship and fixtures later this week, with the likelihood being that inter-county games will resume with the remaining two rounds of National Football League fixtures.

The lockdown started days before Donegal were due to face none other than Tyrone in Division One, and Bonner admits he’d prefer not to be starting off with that tie again weeks ahead of a championship meeting.

“The fact you’re meeting in the championship down the road… A game would be natural enough, preferably against someone else, but if they do decide to go down that road and play the league matches, that’s part and parcel. But it wouldn’t be ideal,” said the Donegal boss.

The issue of club championships and county training overlapping is sure to raise its head over the coming weeks, though dropping the two National League games in at the end of October ahead of championship may ease that conflict slightly.

Bonner feels that there is still a lot to be worked out and believes inter-county football returning first would have been better for everyone.

“Personally, it would have been better that the inter-county went first and run it as they’re probably going to do, in a knockout format, so that they could give the clubs a clear run at it.

“There’s no doubt there will be an overlap between club and county, and that’s going to be the issue down the line.

“There’s a lot of stuff that needs to be ironed out. We don’t know what’s happening in Donegal in regards club championship.

“The timing of that, you’d expect the inter-county boys need at least four or five weeks to get ready for the championship.

“We’re allowed to train from September 13, are we going to have our county championship finished by then, or will other counties? I see Cavan going into October.

“Is there going to be an overlap of county championships and county teams being back in training? There’s a lot of stuff that needs to be addressed yet.

“Until we get a clearer picture of the calendar and fixtures, we don’t know.”

The Donegal manager also believes that the GAA should have pitches open already to help aid the minds of younger members.

“There’s no reason now why those pitches should still be closed. Groups of 15 people are allowed out now to do whatever they want, so why are the pitches still closed? I would have thought they should be opened.

“They’ll open on June 28, the clubs will get back and we’ll get playing a bit of ball.

“If you look at Donegal the last three weeks, I think there have been any cases at all. That’s not being complacent or anything, and things could change, and there has to be sanitising and handwashing, but those pitches could have been open.

“There’s a huge amount of young Gaelic footballers who, in terms of their mental health, I’d say are bored out of their minds over the last number of months.”

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GAA Football