Belfast Telegraph

A game at Clones is a visit to the land that time forgot

By Declan Bogue

There is a route that takes me into Clones that on a good day can bring me right to the ground without any tailbacks or traffic.

Although it gets you within a long puck of the car park, you have to spend the next half hour crawling your way past badly-parked cars, wagging on and encouraging drivers who believe their small vehicle is, in fact, a 40-foot lorry, to continue on their way.

It was during one of these episodes on Saturday that it dawned on me that despite everything, maybe Clones has really had its day.

I am a huge supporter of Clones on a big Ulster Championship day. The atmosphere created by the hills of the town and the inter-mingling of rival supporters is a precious thing.

It's also an organic experience. Monaghan County Council don't go out of their way to enhance it in any shape or form, but we are lucky for that. The other extreme only ends in tears, like for example the current matchday experience in the Aviva Stadium, where Republic of Ireland fans were left bemused by a recent Scotland goal being greeted by celebratory music played over the speakers.

There is nothing as excruciating as 'manufactured atmosphere'.

Last February, I was covering the Six Nations opener between Ireland and Italy in Rome and the stadium announcer never broke breath from shouting into the mic for an hour before the game.

It destroyed any chance of a natural atmosphere building and thankfully that element of Clones is still preserved.

However, its days are numbered and it's clear that the stadium, and sinfully the dressing rooms themselves, are falling into a state of disrepair.

It reminds this writer of a conversation with Director General Paraic Duffy in 2012, when he addressed what exactly might happen to St Tiernach's Park if and when a new Casement Park is delivered.

"I think Clones will have little use… you have a stadium with huge capacity," he said. "The problem with Clones is it's too big for Monaghan's needs. Monaghan want to play their league games in a venue in the middle of the county that could hold 6,000.

"Clones is 35,000 people and it is hard to generate an atmosphere. There is a real problem in what is going to happen with Clones. To be honest, I think Clones at the moment is like a hot potato that Ulster Council, Monaghan County Board and Croke Park are all hoping to give to somebody else. That's not going to work."

The old place is on its way out. Everyone knows it. But it would be nice to let it bow out with a little bit of dignity, all the same.

Belfast Telegraph


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