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Croke Park now the final option for Ulster Championship

The Ulster Council is open to playing their provincial final in Croke Park once again if circumstances allow for it.

Depending on the participants the provincial body will explore the possibility of bringing the showpiece game south once more.

From 2004 to 2006 Croke Park hosted the Ulster final, twice between Armagh and Donegal and twice between Armagh and Tyrone (including one replay). Since then it has been played at its traditional venue, Clones.

“If circumstances dictate that consideration our council will take a look at it,” Ulster Council secretary Danny Murphy said at yesterday's Ulster championship launch in Belfast Castle.

The Ulster final will take place on Sunday 18 July and Croke Park is free on that date as the Leinster final takes place seven days earlier. For Croke Park to happen for Ulster the ‘right' teams would have to be involved. Tyrone and Armagh would always have the ability to draw in excess of 50,000 while the novelty of Down reaching a final could also prompt a move.

“The fixing of the Ulster final will take place around the semi-final stages,” added Murphy. “We demonstrated in the past that if we believed that the game needed to go to Croke Park, that we can consider Croke Park.

“There's no indication on that one way or another at this time. Games at Croke Park have had crowds in excess of 60,000. If that's the level we're going to, we'd have to consider it.”

Meanwhile, Ronan Clarke has moved close to playing some part for Armagh in Sunday's Ulster championship opener against Derry in Celtic Park.

Clarke has missed most of Armagh's successful league campaign because of a troubling ankle injury that was still in a protective cast up to a week ago.

But the Armagh management are now more confident that Clarke will be available to them at some stage if required on Sunday.

Traditionally the Ulster preliminary round is the graveyard for competing teams, with Armagh in 2005 the only team to successfully navigate through all four rounds to win the provincial title in the last 65 years. Cavan previously achieved it in 1945. But it's not something that is preoccupying the mind of Derry manager Damian Cassidy, despite the weight of historical significance attached.

“Do you think for one minute that we are sitting around as a group of players saying that there is only one team in 65 years that won the Ulster championship coming from the preliminary round?” said Cassidy.

“You can be sure, we are not. What we are doing is that we are looking at this game and seeing what can we do to get into the next round.

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