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Armagh not required to give up home advantage against Donegal

By John Campbell

Published 19/05/2015

Mainstay: Andy Mallon has experience of playing Donegal
Mainstay: Andy Mallon has experience of playing Donegal

The Ulster Council have moved quickly to dispel the theory that Armagh might have to forfeit home advantage for their forthcoming provincial senior football championship clash against Donegal.

The match is fixed for the Athletic Grounds on June 14 where the 18,000 capacity is expected to come nowhere near meeting what will be an unprecedented demand for tickets.

The titanic battle that unfurled between Donegal and Tyrone on Sunday has already sharply whetted appetites throughout the province for the rest of the Championship campaign.

Yet it is doubtful if any of the remaining games will quite hold the allure that surrounds a repeat clash of the reigning Ulster champions and beaten 2014 All-Ireland finalists and an Orchard County side gaining momentum under the shrewd tutelage of Kieran McGeeney.

Ulster Council spokesman John Connolly points out that while demand will far outstrip supply in terms of tickets, the decision had been taken some time ago to ensure that where grounds met the required upgraded standards then home advantage would automatically be accorded.

"The Armagh county board have worked hard to transform the Athletic Grounds into an up-to-date stadium and obviously the fact that Donegal will be playing there next month is a plum tie for Kieran McGeeney's side," states Connolly.

"The match between Donegal and Tyrone was a terrific game and we like to think that this has served to lay down a marker for the Ulster Championship. There are other matches scheduled to take place in the interim but there is no doubt that Armagh v Donegal has a special ring to it."

Armagh official Sean McStay confirms that a concerted drive has already been launched to make the match a showpiece occasion.

"County boards like ourselves make considerable effort and go to huge expenditure to refurbish grounds in the hope of getting plum home fixtures such as this one we are getting against Donegal," he points out.

"This is what makes all the sacrifice worthwhile. It is well-known that Armagh boast a huge fan base and naturally everyone wants to see them take on the Ulster champions in their own back yard."

While managers generally rubbish the notion that playing at home can give a team a heads-up, especially in a championship context, Donegal will nevertheless not particularly embrace the idea of travelling to a side that beat them in major championship matches in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2010.

The Armagh team has undergone a transition of late and only the likes of players such as Andy Mallon and Ciaran McKeever have real experience of playing against Donegal in the Championship.

Meanwhile, GAA President Aoghán Ó Fearghail was the guest of honour at the official opening of a new pitch at St John's PS Middletown yesterday, the land for which was donated by former Middletown and Madden club player Sam McClatchey who also represented his county with distinction.

When he brought the curtain down on his playing career, McClatchey devoted many years to refereeing and currently serves as a voluntary steward at the Athletic Grounds and with the Ulster Council for provincial championship matches.

No later than last Sunday, indeed, he was on duty at MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey.

Armagh's Ulster Council delegate Michael Geoghegan quips: "While we think the world of Sam, there is another Sam that we have in our sights as well!"

Belfast Telegraph

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