It’s official – the Ulster final is heading for Croke Park.
The Ulster Council confirmed that the blue riband day of Ulster senior football will be staged at headquarters on Saturday, July 31, with a 4pm throw-in. This is to accommodate as many spectators as possible in these Covid times with appropriate social distancing.
18,000 spectators were present on Sunday in the venue to see Dublin and Kildare make their way to the Leinster final and while nothing is certain now, there could be even more at the Ulster final.
The last time the northern province staged their finals in Croke Park was in the three-year period of 2004, 2005 and 2006, where Armagh won a trio of titles, beating Donegal in ’04 and ’06, and Tyrone in ’05 as demand for tickets ensured the stadium had a healthy attendance.
Meanwhile, Tyrone player Frank Burns insists he would have played anywhere, but is looking forward to the idea of a game in Croke Park.
“We’ll play the game wherever it is, wherever they’re taking us. We would play it in Pomeroy rightly, up in the mountains,” said Burns, who himself hails from Pomeroy.
“They’re probably thinking of Croke Park so they can get more numbers in.
“If it’s in Croke Park, we’ll play it in Croke Park.”
Burns was a late inclusion on the team on Sunday when they got the Donegal monkey off their backs with a 0-23 to 1-14 win to make it back to their first provincial decider since 2017.
The high scoring pattern set the night before by Armagh and Monaghan continued at a supremely-appointed Brewster Park, the pitch in immaculate shape even after the heatwave and the Under-20 game played on Friday night and Fermanagh hurlers’ win over Monaghan on the Saturday.
The heat wasn’t exactly to Burns’ liking, however.
“It was blistering heat there, especially for a fair-haired man such as myself! I am not one of these men on the sun beds so I can’t bear it just as well, was boiling up out there,” he said.
“Game management is a big thing on a day like that. Thankfully we managed the game well.”
With such a hot spell, the importance of hydration was never as important. Burns is a nephew of Brian Quinn, proprietor of Rocwell Water, a previous jersey sponsor of Tyrone, and laughed, “I live beside Rocwell, Brian is my uncle who owns Rockwell, so I have no excuse not to be drinking plenty of water every day.
“But definitely, Friday, yesterday, you’d be getting another litre into you at least every day. The way men prepare at this level, we do it anyway.”
Facing into the game, Tyrone were not particularly fancied after an indifferent league campaign.
“You just try and listen to what’s going on inside our circle of players, and not focus on too much of what goes on outside,” explained Burns.
“We meet these boys every year, and we know each other inside out. They know us inside out, we know them inside out.
“We know there’s never much between the teams, and thankfully we just got over the line.”
A six-goal shellacking by Kerry had many worried about Tyrone’s new approach in the post-Mickey Harte era. It prompted a bit of soul-searching from the panel, he revealed.
“We know Kerry are a serious outfit, and we know we’re not that bad.
“We’re Tyrone men, we went back, we put the heads down and we put in a tight shift for four weeks to get ready for the Ulster Championship, and just picked ourselves up off the floor again.”
On their changes made since Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher came in as the new management team, he said, “I suppose we’re playing on the front foot a wee bit more this year, but we were evolving to that anyway under Mickey.
“The game has just evolved that way and all teams are playing more on the front foot.
“It’s definitely more attacking, it’s a bit more open.”