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Ulster showcase is true value for money

By Declan Bogue

First impressions are important and all that, but if you stumbled upon this page, took a quick glance at my imposing byline picture and thought to yourself, 'that looks like a stern chap indeed. I wonder what Shibboleth he wants to tear down, what pomposity he wants to expose, how will he demonstrate that, in fact, the Emperor is indeed wearing no clothes?'

Well, I have to disappoint.

For you will find no well-sharpened cynicism on this page, or at least in the main piece at any rate. The reason for that is that we are sandwiched between the two biggest weekends of club Gaelic games in Ulster in the entire year.

Last Sunday in the Athletic Grounds has become, by virtue of the Ulster Senior Hurling Championship having been euthanised, the biggest day of the year for Ulster hurling. With 3,742 through the gates, it certainly felt fitting.

Casting a beady eye towards this weekend, this Sunday's Ulster club semi-finals could be the biggest day ever of club football in the province.

Coleraine Eoghan Rua face An Bhoth of Scotstown, followed by Gaoth Dobhair against Crossmaglen at Healy Park, Omagh for a place in the Ulster final.

All this for just £13 in. £10 if you are able to convince the man on the gate that you are a student or on the pension. When I was 16 and on a government grant of £35 per week while doing a joinery and carpentry course in 1995, I recall paying £8 in at a frozen Irvinestown to see Bailieboro Shamrocks beat Derrygonnelly Harps in an early prototype of puke football.

That reasonable price gives you the opportunity to escape all the stresses and strains of everyday life for an entire afternoon and most of the evening as we can realistically expect two cracking games.

There is a school of thought out there that because the GAA is an amateur sport, you could expect to walk into any game for free. I know I am on dodgy ground as a press-card wielding journalist, but I recently purchased tickets for an upcoming American football game I am attending.

The cost of the ticket was £88 to be located something like four townlands away from the pitch. The booking fee alone was £33.

The price of an All-Ireland final ticket is €80 and it causes an annual leaving of the senses.

Look at what you are getting here. Across four teams there will be 32 players who have played at senior inter-county level.

Gaoth Dobhair's roll-call: Kevin Cassidy, Neil and Eamon McGee, Odhran MacNiallais, Michael Carroll, Cian Mulligan, Dara ÓBaoill. A cruciate ligament injury denies us the presence of Kieran Gillespie.

Crossmaglen Rangers top the list with 10 players who have worn the orange of Armagh in senior county action; Aaron and Tony Kernan, James Morgan, Paul Hughes, Oisín O'Neill, Johnny Hanratty, Kyle Carragher, Mickey McNamee, David McKenna and Aidan Rushe. An 11th, Rian O'Neill, is certain to represent his county in the coming months.

Who wants to see the newly-crowned All-Star goalkeeper Rory Beggan do his thing for Scotstown, fresh from clipping a point from play over the bar in the last round against Burren?

As you might be aware, Beggan's understudy in Scotstown - Conor Forde - fills the same role within the Monaghan set up.

Would you believe that Scotstown's third-choice goalkeeper, Cian Mohan, has also kept goal for Monaghan at senior level?

Then you add in Shane Carey, Francis Caulfield and the Hughes brothers, Darren and Kieran.

Darren Hughes might have thought that by marrying Orla from Portstewart he was avoiding all that local rivalry stuff. But he is coming up against no fewer than three brothers-in-law on Sunday in the Daly clann.

Then you have the Coleraine Eoghan Rua side. Declan and Ciaran Mullan, Niall Holly, Ruairi Mooney and no fewer than five McGoldrick brothers; Sean Leo, Colm, Ciaran, Barry, Liam.

I mean, if you couldn't get your teeth into this then you are beyond help.

The Ulster Council's bravery is staging a senior double-header is not without risk, most of them relating to the venue. In the past, the weather has played havoc for the Tyrone county board staging matches as autumn gives way to winter, most famously last year when they had to stage a match or two in Armagh.

Scotstown, Coleraine, Gaoth Dobhair and Crossmaglen are all coming distances to play no matter where the venue was set, but a quick glance at any map would leave Omagh as the central choice.

The biggest day ever for Ulster club football? Just maybe.

Belfast Telegraph

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