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Return of fans would be a perfect boost for Ulster Championship, says Galligan

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Big test: Enda McGinley is facing into his first term as Antrim team manager

Big test: Enda McGinley is facing into his first term as Antrim team manager

�INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Big test: Enda McGinley is facing into his first term as Antrim team manager

Ulster Council chairman Oliver Galligan was only too happy to take what he deemed to be pertinent plus-factors from last year's provincial football championship.

The competition was staged within the tightest time-frame ever, a mere three weeks in all, and offered a menu of matches that incorporated a ration of shocks before delivering a stunning title triumph for his native Cavan.

Understandably, Galligan had been hoping that this year's provincial showpiece might be played out against a more familiar backdrop with packed crowds and an even greater media profile, but instead caution remains the keynote as we inch patiently towards a longed-for return to play.

With mid-May set to herald the start of the Allianz League, the provincial football championships will follow, and Galligan is keeping his fingers crossed that here in Ulster another helping of the excitement, drama and spectacle that marked last year's competition will ensue.

He stresses, however, that two key factors remain to be decided if championship fever is to grip the province.

"The draw has yet to be made and obviously the hope is that this will throw up some more of the enticing duels similar to last year that provided us with such gripping fare," states Galligan.

"We must also wait and see if we will be permitted to have any level of spectators at games.

"We don't know that yet, but looking at things as they stand at the moment the numbers are not going down in the south.

"You never know how things might unfurl as we move along.

"It would be just great if we are allowed to open the turnstiles to allow even limited numbers."

The GAA's Covid Advisory committee is constantly monitoring the ongoing pandemic threat and is expected to update GAA chiefs on aspects of staging fixtures this week.

The fact that no spectators were permitted to attend last year's Ulster championship matches meant that the governing body of the sport here was forced to ship a heavy financial hit.

This was offset to some extent when the Republic's government provided the GAA with €15m of funding to facilitate county teams in fulfilling their league and championship itineraries.

With the GAA having incurred an overall debt of €34m last year, it remains to be seen if funding will come the way of the provincial councils again this year.

The Ulster Council has also been awarded £7.3m under the Sports Sustainability Fund, which is being channelled into clubs.

Yet, even though finance remains a hot topic, Galligan believes that the Ulster Council will retain its intrinsic appeal.

"I think the big thing is that every team that competes in the championships feels they have a chance of winning it," he insists,

"We have a number of new team managers, including Enda McGinley and Stephen O'Neill in Antrim and Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher in Tyrone, and obviously this will be the first Ulster championship in which they will be involved with their teams.

"This will certainly add extra spice to the competition, I feel."

While optimism is the prevailing virtue, Galligan and his counterparts in the other provinces have already taken on board the sharp warning from GAA president Larry McCarthy in relation to any possible breaches of inter-county training restrictions spanning the next fortnight.

"While the situation in relation to what happened with some Dublin players is not going to impact the return to play, if there was to be another such instance it would make things very, very difficult indeed," asserts McCarthy.

"But I'm reasonably confident at the moment that we will get back, assuming that the Covid-19 numbers stay where they are and that the public health authorities don't decide that they've spiked over Easter or anything as worrying as that.

"While I would love to see the clubs back, at the moment we obviously only have permission for the inter-county stuff to come back, so we'll run the League and Championship and see where we go after that."

"In relation to the Dublin situation, the Croke Park Management Committee had an emergency meeting and we have appointed an investigation committee to look into it."

Belfast Telegraph


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