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Patrick McBrearty has small Grounds for concern

By John Campbell

Published 12/06/2015

Compact: The Athletic Grounds in Armagh
Compact: The Athletic Grounds in Armagh

Donegal sharpshooter Patrick McBrearty retains pleasant memories of his team's All-Ireland quarter-final win over Armagh in Croke Park last year.

But when the sides renew their rivalry in the Ulster Championship on Sunday, McBrearty believes the tight confines of the Athletic Grounds might render it more difficult to record scores.

McBrearty has been in fine form this year, his two fine points from play helping to underpin Donegal's 1-13 to 1-10 preliminary round win over Tyrone.

However, Armagh's rigid defensive strategy and a potential lack of space in which to create and take scoring opportunities are a source of concern for the Kilcar clubman in advance of this week-end's contest.

"The Athletic Grounds is a small wee ground and it will be packed and the atmosphere will be top-notch," states McBrearty.

"We will be going there with the intention of giving Armagh the respect they deserve. They are a good team with top quality players."

And he believes that the Ulster Championship has lived up to its 'special' build-up this year.

"I think that the quality of the teams in the competition and the atmosphere in which games are played really makes the Ulster Championship something else. You saw in our game against Tyrone just how competitive things can be and it will be no different in the Athletic Grounds," adds McBrearty.

Armagh officials are, not surprisingly, not quite over the moon at hearing their lavishly-refurbished venue described as a "small wee ground" but one thing is certain - it will be packed to the rafters for the visit of Donegal.

For many years preceding the unfurling of the new-look Athletic Grounds, Armagh played their 'home' championship matches at St Tiernach's Park, Clones.

Yet the loss of home comforts certainly did not have a detrimental effect on the team's progress as the Ulster Championship trophy was pocketed at regular intervals up to and including 2008.

If McBrearty's worries concern a perceived lack of space out on the actual playing arena, then the host county is confronted by a potentially bigger problem - how do they cope with a demand for tickets that could see the ground filled three times over?

"This is a match that everyone wants to see," says Armagh county board spokesman Sean Ó Maoilsté. "There has been a huge effort made to bring the Athletic Grounds up to a required standard but it is by no means a 'small wee ground'.

"When those who had the vision to implement the plan that came to fruition with the completion of the refurbishment work, they did so in the expectation that Armagh would host major home fixtures that would show the county and the team in the best possible light.

"Sunday's game promises to be one of those occasions and we are looking forward to it eagerly not just because it gives Kieran McGeeney's side the chance to pit their skills against the current Ulster champions but because it affords us the opportunity to host a game at a venue which is now the envy of many counties."

Croke Park was among the winners at 'The Stadium Business Awards 2015' at the Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona after picking up an accolade for excellence in Safety and Security.

Belfast Telegraph

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