Ulster finals on high alert over icy forecast

ULSTER GAA are hopeful that both the senior and intermediate club football finals will go ahead this weekend despite the freezing conditions forecast.

Armagh’s Athletic Grounds is due to host the eagerly-anticipated clash between Kilcoo and Glen on Sunday.

The pitch had been spiked at the beginning of this week, which should aid its ability to cope with the frost, and has been monitored in recent days.

Overnight frost that lay on Wednesday and Thursday morning had fully cleared by 11am, although the colder weather that continued into Friday morning, with temperatures dipping to minus one, meant it still wasn’t quite playable by midday today.

Throw-in on Sunday is at 1pm, although the BBC’s forecast for that game has improved as the week has gone on.

The Met Office were yesterday predicting overnight temperatures on Saturday into Sunday morning as low as minus two degrees, however the forecast is now that they won’t dip below freezing point (zero degrees).

Most of Armagh’s pitch is hit by direct sunlight, enabling frost to lift fairly quickly, but the end to the left of the main stand gets virtually no sun and has caused postponements in the past.

Officials in Armagh have been doing everything in their power to keep the pitch ready, which will include laying blankets on that top end overnight on Saturday to try and stave off some of the effects.

Newry is set to host the intermediate final between Corduff and Galbally on Saturday, with the advantage of a 6pm throw-in when it comes to staving off the weather.

Enough sunlight is forecast for during the day that should clear tonight’s frost, with temperatures set to dip back to zero around throw-in time in Páirc Esler.

The bodies tramping around the pitch should be enough to stave off the effects for long enough to get the game completed.

Both pitches were subject to preliminary inspections tomorrow.

A final inspection will take place in Newry early tomorrow afternoon, with the situation in Armagh to be monitored through until Sunday morning.

If either field is unplayable, the game will be postponed by one week, with no alternative venues available.

Neither Omagh nor Clones are options for a Tyrone-Monaghan intermediate final, but both are also ruled out of hosting the senior decider.

Healy Park is out of contention because of their winter wonderland, while the lack of floodlighting eliminates St Tiernach’s Park from the equation.

Alternative venues beyond that would be deemed geographically unsuitable given the likely timeframe available between a call being made on Newry or Armagh and making arrangements for the clubs and supporters to go elsewhere.

Crossmaglen’s twice-postponed 2010 win over Naomh Conaill was the last Ulster final to have fallen victim to the weather, with most of the deciders since having been spared the absolute worst of winter conditions.