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You won't eclipse the magic that Clones brings to Ulster final day

Plans to move the Ulster football final to Croke Park were misguided, writes Aonghus Ó Maicín.

A general view of St Tiernach's Park in Clones.
A general view of St Tiernach's Park in Clones.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

THE VAST MAJORITY of sports stars, from all corners of the world, spend their careers encountering relatively similar experiences from week to week.

Premier League players travel the length and breath of England playing in 20-60,000-seater stadiums every weekend, but are they blessed with contrasting experiences as they take to the field in The Hawthorns, Selhurst Park and St Mary’s among others?

Atmospheres alter from place to place but to a large degree, each week’s adventure differs only slightly from the last.

Kobe Bryant called time on an illustrious career spanning 20 years earlier this year. Since joining the LA Lakers after the 1996 NBA Draft, he has been travelling all over the United States playing on the courts of cutting-edge contemporary arenas abound with screaming and devoted fans.

But are the feelings instigated on court in the Staples Center of Los Angeles truly a far cry from those felt in the Boston Celtics’ home arena, TD Garden, across the other side of the country?

- Unique -

GAA is unique in its ability to offer something other sports can barely perceive. Only in the GAA can a corner-forward find himself frustrated by swirling winds sweeping across the pitch in Gallarus, having been cheered on in front of 80,000 fans in Croke Park the week previous.

General view of the big screen in Croke Park Over 80,000 people pack into Croke Park for the All-Ireland finals every September. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Many a player has cursed conditions such as those endured on the Dingle Peninsula but isn’t that what makes the GAA so special?

A championship summer consists of a succession of individual actualities all rising to a crescendo of passion, glory and anguish in September.

Ulster final day in Clones is one of those special occasions that gives the championship a rightful claim to being one of most intimate, passionate and animated campaigns in the world.

Ryan McAnespie and Neil McAdam celebrate at the end of the game Monaghan players, Ryan McAnespie and Neil McAdam, embrace after winning last year's Ulster SFC final in Clones. Source: Presseye/Andrew Paton/INPHO

Moving the Ulster final for reasons concerning capacity completely ignores the very essence of the day.

- Tradition -

Clones’ central location in Ulster, being less than two hours away from every other county ground in the province, means that it has essentially become a second home for other counties.

Fans from all over the province have made it a familiar haven, undertaking the pilgrimage to Church Hill every summer and partaking in all the compulsory conventions along the way.

With every match day in Clones comes a set of indoctrinated traditions handed down across the years with little or no variation.

A peppy atmosphere is always duly sampled on the Diamond before venturing down Fermanagh Street. The whiff of burger meat from the Leaning Tower lingers in the air before temptations to saunter into the Creighton Hotel, for a quick cold one, are immediately ignored ahead of the trek up the fabled hill to the stadium.

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The pushing and shoving which ensues as team buses attempt to clamber through the bustling masses is all part of the culture Ulster men, women and children have learned to exalt.

The intimate setting of the ground, with sidelines at the fingertips of spectators, provides an alternative challenge to that of Croke Park for players and their management alike. Every careless whisper is within earshot as they deal with the steely-edged realities of Ulster football.

Monaghan and Donegal supporters in the town Monaghan and Donegal supporters walk down Fermanagh Street in Clones ahead of last year's Ulster SFC final. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Ask any young aspiring hurler from Munster about their future ambitions and they will paint a picture of themselves playing in the theatre of dreams that is Semple Stadium . Sure the notion of running out onto the pitch at Croker tingles a few nerves in the spine but for now, Thurles is their Mecca.

A Munster hurling final would never be moved from Thurles. The same principle should apply to Clones.

- Ambitions -

Each county begins the championship campaign with contrasting ambitions.

Dublin undoubtedly set out on their journey this year in the hope of retaining the All-Ireland title, but not every county has the luxury of even pondering the thought.

For some, reaching Croke Park late in the summer is their All-Ireland.

Dublin players celebrate with the Sam Maguire cup Dublin will be hoping to be celebrating the Sam Maguire cup again this September. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Fast-tracking the route to Jones’ Road deprives players and their fans of the scenic thoroughfare which remains as appreciated now as it was through past generations.

Tyrone and Donegal will most likely serve up an enthralling Ulster SFC final tomorrow afternoon, a final that will contrast greatly with a final that would have taken place at GAA headquarters.

Both teams still remain well-short of their season ambitions and there is nothing to suggest that both teams won’t meet for a second time at HQ later this summer. In that case, fans from both counties will be more than willing to take the long trip to Dublin.

If and when that happens, the crusade to Croker will involve an entirely different set of customs in itself.

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