Belfast Telegraph

County Antrim Shield final venue to change as Linfield and Crusaders back move away from Showgrounds

 

Five games have been postponed at the Ballymena Showgrounds this season.
Five games have been postponed at the Ballymena Showgrounds this season.
Solution: Crues’ Ronnie Millar

By Graham Luney

Crusaders say they are willing to accept a coin toss with Linfield to determine who hosts the County Antrim Shield final.

The decider was scheduled for last night at Ballymena Showgrounds but the pitch was waterlogged and failed to pass a 2.30pm inspection.

It's the fifth senior match to be called off at the council-owned ground this season with the Mid and East Antrim Council now launching an investigation aimed at finding a long-term solution.

Linfield have indicated their preference is to play the game at The Oval and would consider a coin toss if the Co Antrim Senior Shield Committee make that suggestion.

The Ballymena pitch was relaid last summer at the estimated cost of £250,000 to the Council but it now seems unlikely to be the venue for the final.

The County Antrim FA is currently awaiting a response from both clubs in the search for a solution and is hopeful a decision will be made this week.

Crues chairman Ronnie Millar stated: "We are willing to toss a coin with Linfield but I also know that Linfield have their concerns about playing at Seaview."

Blues chairman Roy McGivern said: "Our preference was a neutral venue for the final. A coin toss is not something we have discussed but if asked by County Antrim chiefs to consider it we will discuss that. We haven't formed a view on that."

McGivern added: “We are happy with The Oval or Ballymena but they obviously have serious problems. It’s difficult to see many matches being played at Ballymena, other than their league fixtures, some of which could be in doubt.

“If I was in the shoes of the County Antrim Shield Committee I would look at another venue. Our semi-final against Ballymena at the same venue was called off twice.

“The Oval must be an alternative because we are two Belfast clubs. There are no capacity issues there and it can host a final. There may be an issue with regard to sponsorship regarding McLeans and Toals but that issue could be overcome.

“And contrary to what some might believe, there are no additional costs for clubs if the final is staged at Windsor.

“Under the stadium sharing agreement we have a set number of additional fixtures a year on top of our normal games and this would fall into that category.

“You want games played so you don’t have to worry about a backlog with the split approaching and midweek games plans.”

Crues chairman Millar also questioned whether the final could go ahead in Ballymena, adding: “They will struggle to get matches played there because of our weather and the drainage issues with the pitch.

“We are happy to toss a coin to select a venue and ideally you want both clubs to reach an agreement.”

The Mid and East Antrim Council said they were “extremely disappointed and hugely frustrated by the condition of the playing surface” and added: “We apologise unreservedly for the disruption caused.

“We have launched a full investigation into the current issues in order to find a long-term solution.”

Ballymena United welcomed the council statement and are hopeful of an improvement.

The club said: “The club are hopeful that the outcome of the investigation into the current issues will see an improved playing surface through to the end of the season.”

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