Gavin Devlin: Bigger venue should be considered for Donegal-Tyrone Ulster SFC clash
TYRONE assistant Gavin Devlin insists their Ulster Championship match with Donegal this autumn should be played at a venue that can accommodate more supporters than Ballybofey.
Donegal have home advantage for their eagerly awaited provincial showdown - scheduled for October 31/November 1 – but with social distancing measures expected to be still in place and therefore a strict limit on the amount of spectators allowed to watch the game, Devlin believes the Ulster Council should consider a bigger venue.
Croke Park would appear to be the most obvious alternative as it can house an estimated 21,000 with current social distancing measures, while Ballybofey’s MacCumhaill Park’s capacity is 17,500.
In observance of social distancing, that figure would be shredded to a couple of thousand spectators at best.
Devlin acknowledged that his plea would be singularly viewed as a crude attempt on behalf of Tyrone to deny Donegal home advantage for the clash.
But Devlin insisted that isn’t his motivation and feels the competing counties and the Ulster Council owe it to the GAA public to get more bums on seats, especially as the country tentatively emerges from a dark period.
“I know it’s easy for me to say now as we’re meant to go and play Donegal in Ballybofey,” Devlin said.
“People have missed the games so much. They are mad to get back out and see our games being played. Surely the right mind-set should be let’s get the venues where we can get as many people safely in to watch our games. I think that’s what it should be all about.
“Our games wouldn’t be shown in a great light either if we were playing in an empty stadium. If you have another stadium where you can get more people in, surely that’s the place to play the game.”
Ballybofey hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for Tyrone over the last decade. Even on neutral territory – Kingspan Breffni Park - Donegal humbled Tyrone in last season’s Ulster SFC semi-finals.
“We played them in Breffni Park last year and we were atrocious, probably the worst performance in my time involved with Tyrone,” the Ardboe native added.
“The venue, important and all that it is, surely to God the game should be played where you can get more supporters into the ground.”
Last month, Donegal boss Declan Bonner told The Irish News they had no intentions of surrendering home advantage for their knock-out Championship tie and floated an optimistic and admittedly speculative figure of “5,000 or 10,000” attending the game at MacCumhaill Park.
“We’ll not be looking to move it, that’s for sure,” Bonner said on June 30. “And we’ll be doing everything in our power to make sure the game goes ahead in Ballybofey. I’ve no interest in playing it anywhere else to be quite honest.”
Ulster Council secretary Brian McAvoy said yesterday there was “no immediate rush” to decide on venues for their Ulster Championship games that are still over three months away.
“There are a lot of things we need to do to get our ducks all in a row,” McAvoy said. “It’s still an evolving situation. We just need to get more detail on numbers allowed and more guidance from government.”
McAvoy also noted that while people will be looking at bigger stadia in the hope of increasing Championship attendances, government guidance may well continue to cap attendances for outdoor events, which could render the debate of bigger venues meaningless come October-November time.