For fans and players, the journey from the hills of Donegal to Derry’s Celtic Park is shorter than most cross-county GAA trips around the country.
Over the years the rivalry between Donegal and neighbours Derry has been intense, to say the least. Championship games between the two have seen both Celtic Park and MacCumhaill Park filled out, and the fixture has also attracted large crowds to Clones, when neutral ground is required at the later stages of the competition.
Over the past few years football has taken a bit of a backseat in the eyes of the mainstream media. The Sunday Game donates very little time to in-depth match analysis, and oftentimes resorts to ramblings about championship structures and lamenting sweepers and blanket defences.
And this year, a worryingly little amount of action is to be shown live on our screens. The opportunity for people to see their county in action is becoming increasingly difficult, despite the growth of technology in sports media, unless you can make it down to the ground.
For many years the GAA has run with the ‘nothing beats being there’ slogan. At the moment the majority of fans around the nation have no other option, especially for those who enjoy their Ulster football.
The first time fans will get the chance to see a game televised live will be at the semi-final stage. BBC will run this Sunday’s game with deferred coverage. It begs the question as to why more broadcasters weren’t let into bed with RTÉ and Sky when the new structures were integrated. Now Ulster fans will see virtually no action this summer unless they’re perched at the games.
‘Nothing beats being there’ is a statement that is certainly true, the atmosphere and the buzz and the camaraderie that goes with championship outings cannot be compared to watching a game on the couch. For a lot of fans, though, they simply can’t attend games for whatever reasons, be it distance, transportation, old age or being stuck at a poorly scheduled family event.
And there’s also the price. The cost of a seated ticket if bought on the day of this weekend’s game is €35, but if you buy before the match it will cost punters €28. Most games around the country are €20 on the day, but a U20 game between Donegal and Cavan beforehand has elevated the price.
The issue with this is that a lot of people will be waiting til Sunday to see what the weather is like, given the unpredictable Irish climate. A large contingent of fans would wait to the morning of a game before making their mind up as to whether to go or not, which is fair enough.
In the Leinster hurling championship, All-Ireland champions Galway welcome Kilkenny to Salthill and tickets for that battle are currently costing €20 for a seated ticket.
This leaves a lot of people priced out of an opportunity to attend Sunday’s football game, especially with the likelihood of more fixtures this summer than ever before. A car of five adults going to Donegal-Derry would be out €175 if they decided to go on the day.
The same group could sit in Salthill and watch the reigning All-Ireland champions and perennial winners Kilkenny for a measly €100.
So for some Donegal and Derry fans hoping to catch a glimpse of their county in the fire and fury of Celtic Park on Sunday, they’re being wedged between a rock and a hard place. If you can’t go to the game, you’re relying on ten minutes of The Sunday Game to fill you in on the ins and outs of the game. If you don’t want to fork out the match-day ticket price, your TV license fee or Sky subscription isn’t bailing you out either.
‘Nothing beats being there’ has never been so necessary.
Donegal GAA devotee and columnist for GAA Wrap.