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Derby rivalry: Oran Kearney’s Coleraine take on Ballymena United tonight

Derby rivalry: Oran Kearney’s Coleraine take on Ballymena United tonight

Derby rivalry: Oran Kearney’s Coleraine take on Ballymena United tonight

The return of league football and county-level GAA this weekend has fans champing at the bit to see their heroes back in action, but the pandemic has thrown up some major challenges.

While the Danske Bank Premiership can welcome a small number of spectators, fans of the Allianz Football League will be forced to watch games online or on TV.

The Irish League came to a halt in March when lockdown was first introduced, so it's been a long wait to see a football being kicked in the Premiership.

Earlier this month the GAA's management committee made the decision to suspend club games at all levels.

The good news is all-Ireland inter-county championships can go ahead, albeit behind closed doors, and counties can finish outstanding league games.

Oran Kearney's Coleraine welcome derby rivals Ballymena United to the Showgrounds tonight in a game that usually attracts more than 3,000 fans.

Due to the restrictions, just 450 Coleraine spectators will be allowed to attend.

The Bannsiders' Covid officer, Stevie McCann, said the club gained experience of providing a sterile environment for players during their Europa League exploits in the summer.

"We have a company that comes in pre-game and post-game and Covid-cleans the changing facilities," he added.

"Every single entry to the ground has got a hand sanitiser station at it. It's ticket entry only and the ground is all zoned too.

"We had it measured out to see how many we can get in safely".

Meanwhile, Down take on Leitrim in their Allianz League third division clash at Pairc Esler in Newry tomorrow afternoon.

It has taken six months for the Mournemen to play the first of their two final league games, and manager Paddy Tally believes the behind-closed-doors experience will be "unique".

"Especially in the home games in Newry because you have a very good and very vocal Down support," he added.

"We are really looking forward to it. It's been over six months since we left off and we were sitting in a position with two very important games left."

Belfast Telegraph