GAA Football

Teams ready for the wall of Ballybofey silence

Ballybofey will be locked to all but the players, management and press on Sunday. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

BALLYBOFEY on Championship day brings throngs from three sides. They cross over from McElhinney’s car park, they come in over the bridge or down through the town.

No game ignites the place quite like Tyrone hopping the border. It’s almost felt like an annual occurrence the last decade, so many of them on Donegal’s turf. Each tie has had its own tale to tell.

The emptiness of this year’s Championship venues will never be more keenly felt than in MacCumhaill Park on Sunday.

Instead of the crescendo cavalcading down from the baying thousands, all we’ll have is the echo of verbal jousting. At least be thankful it’s not subjected to Sky’s augmented crowd noise.

“It’s different in every aspect – the re-match, getting changed on the pitch side, water-breaks, no spectators. It’s a different environment we’re in,” says Declan Bonner.

“That’s going to be huge. In a championship match against Tyrone there’s hardly moving space around the town. That’s not going to be the case on Sunday. We’re adapting to that.”

The silence is strange only to those who normally create the sound.

For the players, it takes no real getting used to.

99 per cent of what they do is conducted in this environment. There aren’t thousands at Convoy or Garvaghey watching the two teams train.

When they play in-house games or challenge games, every curse word is audible. The sounds disappear off into the distance.

“You know what, it’s not that strange. It really isn’t,” said Tyrone’s Kieran McGeary, sitting half shivering in the empty stand in MacHale Park, another place known for its ability to raise the hair.

“You’re faced with it on a Tuesday and a Thursday, wherever you’re training at. You’re shouting and roaring and sometimes your communication can be better.

“They say the crowd has a massive factor on the game, and yes it does, but when you’re five minutes in and you’re in the depths of it, you sort of forget about that.

“You just get on with it, the crowd doesn’t really become a factor. It’s a bit like playing at your club, you’ve a few people just standing watching. Sometimes it nearly takes the pressure off players to perform, to win that big high ball or score that free-kick.

“There’s none of that shouting and going on. I’m sure every team is the same, they don’t really mind it.

“It’d be fantastic to have a crowd and the atmosphere and the roar. If this here was full today, I’m sure the result could have been different for Mayo. We’ll deal with it, it’s here and that’s it.”

The players have to create their own cauldron of noise on the pitch. It’s something Donegal are better at than Tyrone.

The Tír Chonaill men are particularly vocal on Niall Morgan’s kickouts, and there isn’t as much comes back the other way.

“I don’t think it [the lack of crowd] is going to have much of an impact on us,” says Eoghan Bán Gallagher.

“I’d love to have the Donegal crowd there to cheer us on when things mightn’t be going there, or when we’re on top.

“But we’ve played a lot of challenge games over the last number of years, so every player is used to the aspect of not having a crowd and everything being heard.

“It’s not going to bring too much difference. Obviously it’s Championship and it will have a weird feeling because we don’t normally play challenge games in MacCumhaill Park.

“But we just have to be ready for whatever it is.”

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