GAA Football

Hard decisions ahead over venues for Ulster Championship games says Brian McAvoy

The Ulster Championship quarter-final clash between Donegal and Tyrone may have to be moved to a neutral venue unless social distancing restrictions are eased before the end of October. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Neil Loughran

ULSTER Council secretary Brian McAvoy insists no definitive decision has been reached about where the clash between Donegal and Tyrone will be held, amid speculation the blockbuster Ulster Championship quarter-final could take place in Croke Park rather than Ballybofey.

The GAA is awaiting guidance in relation to the use of terracing at grounds across Ireland, with concerns about maintaining current social distancing guidelines outside of seated sections.

Such capacity restrictions would only allow a crowd of around 1,100 at MacCumhaill Park for the meeting of these familiar foes on October 31/November 1. As a result, a possible switch to Croke Park – where up to 21,000 supporters could be accommodated – has been mooted.

It would be a big blow to reigning Ulster kingpins Donegal, who would be understandably reluctant to give up home advantage, and McAvoy admitted the provincial body could face some “hard decisions” on where to play games.

“Any team sees a home draw as an advantage and that’s understandable,” said the Burren man.

“But we could be faced with a scenario where – particularly if we can’t get use of terracing, that is the key to unlocking everything – some of our grounds earmarked for Ulster Championship games have very low capacities.

“Under the current social distancing regulations Clones, we would estimate, would have a capacity of just over 4,000 if we can’t use terracing. Hopefully things will change but that’s the reality at the minute; unless we get some relaxation on terracing and social distancing, that could be a worst-case scenario.

“It’s just a totally different scenario this year to everything else and we have to weigh that up.

Other venues may not be available so then you have hard decisions on where you take games.”

Top GAA officials have been sounded out about the possibility of taking Ulster Championship games, including the provincial decider, to Croke Park – although McAvoy says there is “no immediate rush” on nailing down venues, with the Covid-19 situation continuing to evolve week on week.

“The committee asked me to contact Croke Park to see was there a possibility of staging any games there. I’m sure we’re going to be no different to anybody else - Croke Park can only take so many games and you’re really limited to Saturday/Sunday. We’ll see what happens.

“Venues are something we are going to have to give serious consideration to, and that’s why we’ve kept our options open regarding any venues for the senior Championship. I would think a decision is still a number of weeks away – there’s no immediate rush.

“The counties know the dates they’re playing, they just have to find out exactly where they’re playing.”

One certainty is that, should the Ulster SFC final take place at its traditional home in Clones on November 22, it will be played as a standalone fixture – with throw-in potentially as early as 12.30pm due to a lack of floodlighting at St Tiernach’s Park.

“We have kept open the date of the minor football final, but there is absolutely no possibility of a double-header in Clones,” said McAvoy.

“It gets dark around 4pm in November, so the very latest you could be finishing a game, allowing for the trophy presentation, is probably 3.15pm. You have to allow two-and-a-half hours for every game to finish on the day.

“We can rule out any chance of a double bill in Clones on Ulster final day, it’s just not going to happen. That’s not to say the Ulster final won’t be in Clones, but we’d be talking about a reasonably early start if that were to be the case.”

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GAA Football