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Could Clones benefit from Covid ?

Feb 23, 2021 13:02 By Sean McCaffrey
Could Clones benefit from Covid ? Could Clones benefit from Covid ?
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“Fáilte go Clauin Eois Pháirc Naomh Tiernach do chluiche ceannais Peile Sinsir Uladh.”

The P.A system crackles to life, a little under an hour to throw-in with those cupla focal.

At that stage, the hill will be full with earlier punters making sure to have gotten to the cherished centre field viewing position and more importantly to lean on the crowd control barrier.

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Those early attendee’s finding interest in the minor final. The town end terrace is filling up, those coveted crowd control barriers also much sought after.

The Pat McGrane stand, Roslea Road end and Gerry Arthur stand gradually come to life, the comfort of a seat with a ticket number ensuring that you knew your spot was waiting.

A little over a kilometre away the Diamond is heaving with supporters of competing teams.

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Music seeping out the doorways of public houses, some go for the live band version with a band no doubt wedged in the corner as supporters call out for their favourite tunes, for others the jukebox would be in full-flow, bursting to the seams with a steady stream of coins to ensure it never stopped. The same song on repeat!

The up-coming game would be discussed, the possible outcome, who would play well, how it could be won, “this is our year! It’s great to be here, did you hear of any injury concerns? Who will mark who?  We best make a move down the hill here. “

The hill, been Fermanagh street, tight and narrow at the best of times, now just a moving sea of hats, scarves and head bands.

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“You will support the cause” as a little paper emblem with a pin is pressed into your lapel, no sign of coinage means it moves onto the next lapel.

Through the traffic lights and now to face the uphill end of the journey past the chapel. A wee bit more hazardous now as those with the “Car Pass” join the mass movement to make it to the back of the Gerry Arthurs stand.

Good humoured tapping on the window, maybe the draping of your flag over an opposing supporters car as they slowly make their way up to the Garda cordon; that ensures you have permission to move forward.

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Cresting the hill; St Tiernachs Park to your right comes into view past the Scout Hall.

“There’s a right few in already” is remarked. A squint of the eyes to see the scoreboard at the far end, “how is the minor game going?”

Cheers and reaction drift out from the concluding game.  A point between them, looks like a good game, should have got in earlier!

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Up to the turnstile after buying the official programme, if you missed getting one, there will be another opportunity when you enter.

The young programme sellers know their trade by now, not right inside the gate to cause a back log but positioned between you and the path to your viewing area or the toilet block. Best to go now be a while to half-time or indeed till it’s over.

The Minor game is over.  A few disappointed supporters of the losing side make their way out stopping just before exiting to decide should they take in the early stages of the senior final.

The presentation to the winning minor captain is just starting. The exit is complete, now to face the throngs coming the other-way.

Inside the anticipation is building to the big one, a few formalities are taken care of. The minors do a lap of honour with the Liam Murray Cup.

The officials for the senior game make their way out to centre-field. A warm round of applause accompanies their introduction. How long that warmth will last remains to be seen?

Fanfare music ensures the arrival of the first team from underneath the Gerry Arthurs stand. Bursting out to a wall of noise, the majority of the seating and standing area in St Tiernachs Park now full.

The first few players hurdle the team photograph bench and step back, those following take up position around them. The click of cameras and woosh they’re gone again in a frenzy of staggered runs and skip jumps to go through the pre-match drills.

The second team arrive, same approach and same departure, their supporters trying to out-shout their opposition.

Team announcements are confirmed over the P.A and then the introduction of Amhrán na bhFiann. Everyone turns to attention toward the town end goals; the tri-colour and the flags of the competing teams.

Tradition has it the last few words are lost as the supporters once again look to outdo each other on the cheering stakes.

The ball goes up, the game is on, another Ulster senior final in St Tiernachs Park Clones.

Much discussion and debate is ongoing about the fate of the Ulster final and it remaining in Clones termed by many as the home of Ulster football.

For almost 50-years the annual pilgrimage to the border town in Monaghan has been completed by GAA supporters. From 2004 to 2006 it moved to Croke Park, due to sheer numbers wanting to attend.

Noted for the interest it generated at the time and in particular the rivalry between Armagh and Tyrone, one would be hard pressed to recall the sense of occasion that would normally be associated with the final.

It also moved in 2020, a year like no other in fairness, behind closed doors, under lights at the Athletic grounds. It will be remembered for those unusual reasons and Cavan’s historic win, but again maybe not the sense of occasion.

Coronavirus continues to rule the land with no GAA activity planned for the coming months. Behind closed doors could be the way once more in 2021.

The association revealed their financial statement, it was stark reading but not surprising, no paying punters meant no income. The emergency hand-out from the Government greatly received.

This lack of funds saw the GAA note that they will be unable to direct any central funds in the short to medium term towards projects around the country including Casement Park.

The Belfast ground which has fallen into a state of disrepair is to be the jewel in the Ulster council crown. A fully developed 34,000 plus all-seater stadium hosting GAA games and the Ulster final.

On the Andersonstown Road in the west of the city, those tall flood-light stanchions are your land mark as you travelled up the M1 from the south and were looking for exit.

Travel up Kennedy Way and immediately onto parking spot lookout. Shopping centres and Industrial estates take up a lot of the landscape with side-streets and houses; leafy cover surrounding the area.

A level approach and high walls make it difficult to get a peek at the ground on your way in! That will be impossible when the new stadium is developed.

Wide roadways and constant moving traffic take away from the thronged element of approaching the ground.

Having been mired in planning controversy, the go ahead for the new Casement Park finally arrived in October last year. Good news obviously for the GAA at provincial level and indeed in Antrim who have been without a proper home ground for almost a decade.

Now Covid has brought another hurdle with finance the issue. Millions has been directed towards the project, millions more will be needed to complete it.

It will happen, it will become the home of the Ulster final, thousands will descend upon it to cheer on their side. The Anglo Celt cup will take pride of place on a presentation plinth and history will be written and re-written on its surface.

But for now a Covid positive is that St Tiernachs Park will remain the Ulster final venue. The Pandemic will of course dictate if the hallowed journey from the diamond to the ground will be completed by thousands of supporters in the near future.

When the final takes place may also decide if the ground is suitable, it’s lack of floodlighting seeing it miss out last year.

Casement maybe on the verge of stalling again, but St Tiernachs Park remains. The Ulster final tradition and sense of occasion looks set to remain for another few years.

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