Belfast Telegraph

It’s game on as fans prepare for huge weekend of top sport

Amazing line-up grabs the attention

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Love it or loathe it, there will be no escaping it. This is going to be one of the biggest-ever weekends for sport in Ulster.

With an incredible and unprecedented line-up of massive rugby, football and GAA fixtures, and motorcycle racing, which, surprisingly do not overlap each other, sports fans across the province are being treated to a rare ‘Super Saturday and Sunday’.

“This weekend certainly is a busy one for sport,” Culture and Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín told the Belfast Telegraph. “Irish rugby fans are travelling to London to cheer on Ulster and Leinster in the Heineken Cup final. I am delighted by the all-Ireland nature of the rugby final, but I will still be shouting for Ulster.

“Locally, we have the North West 200 as well as the throw-in for the start of the Ulster GAA Football Championship. I am sure this will prove an exciting year for Gaelic games, as always, with a number of credible contenders and tough games ahead.

“I will also be backing the North's ladies footballers against Bulgaria in their Euro 2013 qualifier game.”

Up to 20,000 devoted rugby supporters who will have travelled by air, sea and even scooter will descend on Twickenham today for Ulster’s first European Cup final in 13 years.

More than 4,000 others have snapped up tickets and will be watching what should be a nailbiting clash on a 60ft screen in Belfast’s Odyssey pavilion, while rugby clubs up and down the country are planning family fun days before showing the match, which kicks off at 5pm, on big screens.

One club, Belfast Harlequins, is turning back the clocks, pricing pints at the same rate as they were in 1999 — when Ulster won the Heinekin Cup.

Pubs and clubs including The Bot and Errigle in Belfast will also be packed with sports-mad punters.

Ulster Rugby spokeswoman Lyndsey Irwin said: “The players are going into the game as underdogs but that is a tag that sits very well with them.

“No matter what the outcome, it is going to be a brilliant day.”

Also today crowds of more than 100,000 are anticipated on the north coast for the annual North West 200. The event, which is Ireland’s largest outdoor sporting event, is in its 83rd year and organisers are hoping to avoid the setbacks which led to last year’s meeting being abandoned.

“We at the North West were always keen to put on a show after last year's aborted meeting, when a series of events conspired against us,” said NW200 technical director Mervyn White.

“Some eventualities cannot be legislated for but lessons from last year have been learned.”

Among the big names speeding through Portrush, Portstewart and Coleraine will be Michael Rutter, Guy Martin and Ryan Farquhar, as well as Michael and William Dunlop.

Race-goers will be finished well in time to catch the much-hyped Champions League Final between Chelsea and Bayern Munich. Kick-off at the Allianz Arena is not until 7.45pm and thousands of Blues’ supporters will tune in to Sky Sports and ITV for European club football’s showpiece game.

But the weekend of fun does not end there. Sunday sees the start of this season's Ulster GAA Championship when Donegal take on Cavan at Breffni Park. Around 12,000 people are expected to be at the game, which starts at 3.30pm.

The ultimate couch potato guide

  • Heineken Cup Final. The game between Ulster and Leinster at Twickenham kicks off at 5pm on Saturday and will be broadcast live on Sky Sports 3 and 3HD as well as BBC Radio 5Live.
  • North West 200. Racing starts from 10.30am and will be broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster with five events, including the NW200 Superbike race, streamed live through the BBC website.
  • Champions League Final. Chelsea take on Bayern Munich in Munich from 7.45pm. The match will be broadcast live on ITV1 and Sky Sports 1 and 1HD.
  • GAA Championship. Donegal take on Cavan in the preliminary round of the 2012 Ulster Senior Football Championship at Breffni Park, Cavan, at 3.30pm, Sunday. Highlights will be shown on BBC2 from 7pm.

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