Tyrone send back 1,000 tickets of their allocation ahead of Ulster championship opener in Ballybofey

Donegal hoping Karl Lacey comes through training unscathed


Don’t believe all of the hype surrounding Donegal’s Ulster football showdown against Tyrone this Sunday afternoon.

Fears that MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey wouldn’t be sufficient to cater for the spectator demand appear somewhat unfounded, as Tyrone ended up sending back around 1,000 terrace tickets of their original allocation of 5,750.

While most of these were snapped up by Donegal’s 40 clubs by close of business yesterday evening, and the game is still headed for a 17,500 sell-out, this has conflicted with Tyrone’s initial concerns about the choice of venue.

Donegal were entitled to a home venue after being drawn first in their quarter-final pairing, and what is of course also the opening game in the defence of their All-Ireland title.

However, it was late March before the Ulster Council confirmed their decision to approve MacCumhaill Park, and only after several upgrades required after the Slattery Report on health and safety. The Donegal venue had been previously approved to hold 21,385, but had that figure reduced to just 12,250 after the Slattery Report: it thus seemed the game was destined for Clones, with a capacity of around 34,000 – a move not surprisingly favoured by Tyrone – but after some speedy improvements (including the installation of extra turnstiles), costing some €20,000 and funded by both the Donegal county board and Croke Park, the capacity was increased back up to 17,500.

Openly critical
Tyrone had been openly critical of the decision by the Ulster Council to fix the game for Ballybofey, claiming overall interest in the game would far outstrip the capacity for a match, and estimated it could have drawn close to 30,000 had the game been fixed for Clones.

However, Tyrone press officer Eunan Lindsay went some way towards explaining the returning of terrace tickets: to the: “I know from my own club, people are reluctant to take children to a sold-out game on terrace tickets when the place will be full to capacity,” he told the Donegal News . “Roughly 25 per cent to a third of the attendance would usually be children and it seems that there are families now who aren’t really pushed about going.”

There may be still some financial hit for the Ulster Council, yet one they would willing to take in order to allow the All-Ireland champions begin their defence at home.

On the field
As for who will appear on the field of play itself, Donegal look set to be as close as possible to their All-Ireland winning line-up, assuming 2012 Footballer of the Year Karl Lacey came through last night’s final training unscathed. Mark McHugh has also been nursing a minor groin injury, although it’s unlikely to prevent him from starting either.

Tyrone have suffered one minor setback with the loss of young forward Ronan O’Neill, who picked up a hamstring injury in training this week. The 20-year-old was unlikely to start anyway, but it is another personal blow, having missed all of last season with a cruciate.

No such worries for Stephen O’Neill, who is back to full match fitness after the ankle injury sustained while warming up for the Allianz Football League final against Dublin last month: O’Neill did require a couple of weeks of rest and rehab, but manager Mickey Harte has confirmed he is now a definite starter for Sunday.

So too it appears is Peter Harte, who also missed the league final with a hamstring injury picked up in the semi-final win over Kildare. There is every chance too that midfielder Aidan Cassidy will play some role. Although he also missed a few weeks training with an ankle injury picked up in the course of the league final defeat to Dublin, he returned to group training last Sunday, and is likely to at least make the bench.

Meanwhile, Brewster Park has been given the green light to host the Ulster football quarter-final meeting of Fermanagh and Cavan on June 16th, despite the G8 summit taking place just a few miles from the ground over the following two days.