Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

All is bright on Sky at night

Cliftonville's Stephen O'Neill celebrates scoring the equaliser against Linfield and securing a point for the Reds

The Sky opened up on Irish League football last night as Monday Night Football breezed into Belfast for the first time.

Sky Sports had already agreed to plough £10million into Northern Ireland's international games but viewers across Britain and beyond, couldn't have envisaged a wet and windy night in north Belfast lighting up their Monday night with the remote control.

Quite what the armchair audience made of the spectacle remains to be seen, but on this showing this first step into the 20th century seems to be just what the Carnegie Premier League and Irish FA needed.

Cliftonville and Linfield fans came out in their numbers as Solitude was awash with colour. Air-horns, flags and fancy dress were the order of the day - even a cuddly alligator and Donald Duck made their way from the Waterworks for the night.

But if this is what live TV does for the local game, then bring it on.

Both stands were crammed to the rafters and what the game lacked in fireworks on the pitch in the first half, was made up for with an impromptu firecracker display behind the Reds' famous cage.

This was the last stand for the cage behind the goal as the builders move in next week to redevelop that side of the old ground, but it certainly added its fair share to the occasion.

Despite a goal-less first half, both sets of fans got in on the act in what was a cup final atmosphere.

It obviously wasn't just the players and referee Davy Malcolm who fancied getting their mugs on TV as the nine cameras and numerous microphones brought the carnival atmosphere to life.

Cliftonville weren't taking any chances of a drab affair as they enlisted the help of Hole In The Wall Gang actor and lifelong Reds fan Tim McGarry to whip the home supporters into a frenzy before kick-off with his "da" routine.

Thankfully he gave all our heads peace by taking his seat before kick-off and left the singing to the Red Army.

If the first half was all about the colour and noise of the occasion, the second half showed the product Irish League has to offer if the powers that be put the effort in.

Linfield took the lead against the run of play, thanks to Glenn Ferguson but the Reds hit back within two minutes thanks to Davy McAlinden.

Back came the champions as Thomas Stewart swept the ball home only for former Linfield player Stephen O'Neill to draw Eddie Patterson's troops level again to secure a share of the spoils.

Unfortunately for Cliftonville boss Patterson, he was forced to watch from the stand thanks to a touchline ban but that wouldn't have mattered when substitute O'Neill steered the ball into the net with his first and possibly only touch of the night.

Both clubs and sets of fans played their part and Sky can't complain about their first foray into Northern Ireland's top flight.

While the supporters, players and officials enjoyed the national attention, both clubs even seemed to have more hangers-on than normal - it's amazing what a TV camera will do!

The trick now, of course, is to keep these people interested long after the Sky entourage disappear.

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