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Irish FA get green light for 500 Cup final fans while GAA eye return of supporters



A small group of supporters will be permitted at Windsor Park for the Irish Cup final.

A small group of supporters will be permitted at Windsor Park for the Irish Cup final.

Getty Images

A small group of supporters will be permitted at Windsor Park for the Irish Cup final.

The Irish FA have confirmed that 500 supporters will be allowed to attend the Irish Cup final at Windsor Park next Friday.

Monday's semi-finals at the international stadium will take place behind closed doors but the news that a limited crowd will be able to watch the showpiece occasion is a huge boost for the Association and the clubs aiming for Cup glory.

The NI Executive said yesterday that supporters could attend outdoor sporting events "where the operator can control access and ensure adherence to social distancing".

Irish FA president David Martin said: "The semi-finals will be played behind closed doors but we are looking to have 500 spectators into the ground for the final, behind the East and West Stands. Each club will be allocated 250 tickets and we must apply social distancing rules within the stadium."

Monday's last-four clashes, which mark the return of senior competitive football for the first time since the Covid-19 crisis halted the game in March, are Ballymena United v Coleraine followed by Glentoran against Cliftonville.

"I'm delighted we can get some fans into the final, albeit in small numbers," added Martin.

"The stadium can deliver this and we are ready to go. It's up to the clubs to decide how they distribute tickets but I would expect priority would be given to the families of players and staff. For a number of weeks, the Association has been working with the Department of Communities and health professionals to reach this point.

"It has been our aim for the Irish Cup games to be played and to get some fans in for the final.

"We are pleased to get the opportunity to do that. It's the biggest game in the careers of some players, they may never be able to play in another Irish Cup final again."

The decision by the Stormont Executive to end the ban on spectators attending outdoor events was also warmly welcomed by the GAA.

"This is a very encouraging development and gives us renewed impetus going forward," says Stephen McGeehan, the Ulster Council's Head of operations.

Cricket clubs also welcomed the news with Alan Waite, chairman of the NCU's Domestic Directorate, saying: "We are still awaiting to see the exact details but our belief is that as long as we have our contact tracing in place and we can socially distance adequately within the ground, spectators are allowed."

It’s expected that the names and contact information of the fans who will attend the Irish Cup final should be retained by the clubs for contact tracing purposes.

“Windsor Park is a big stadium and we believe we can control access and ensure adherence to social distancing,” added Martin.

“We will have very strict protocols in place and believe we can cope.

“We would like to thank all the health professionals and medical services for everything they have done, and continue to do, during this coronavirus pandemic.”

Cliftonville and Ballymena are, meanwhile, expecting an update today following their move for arbitration to the Irish FA after their appeals against suspensions for the semi-finals were rejected.

Reds duo Garry Breen and Jamie Harney are set to miss the Glentoran clash while Sky Blues boss David Jeffrey and Steven McCullough will not be available against Coleraine.

The clubs, who have lodged for arbitration in conjunction with each other, argued that the bans would have already been served but for the Covid-19 shutdown and should no longer apply.

However, the IFA said it would be “unjust” for the bans not to be served.

Cliftonville have been given a pre-Irish Cup semi-final lift with the news that their young Strollers side lifted the Harry Cavan Youth Cup in style by overcoming Institute Under-18s 5-1 in Wednesday’s decider.

Michael McLellan, meanwhile, has left Ards and returned to H&W Welders. The frontman, who joined Ards from Linfield in 2017, scored 37 goals in 104 appearances.

Derry City have announced the signing of former Liverpool youth player Adam Hammill.

Hammill has linked up the Brandywell club until the end of the League of Ireland season.

The former England Under 21 international joins from Scunthorpe United after a recent spell on loan at Stockport County.

Belfast Telegraph