Offaly's Damien Egan in Tullamore
OFFALY'S crunch National Hurling League Division 2A game on Sunday has been changed to O'Connor Park in Tullamore after a request by the team management.
The game had originally been fixed for St Brendan's Park in Birr but the Offaly GAA County Board agreed to switch it to Tullamore after team manager Michael Fennelly and selectors expressed a preference for the main ground in the county.
The Offaly GAA County Board have had a policy of giving one National Hurling League match to Birr in the past couple of years as well as more club senior hurling games. Offaly have already played Kerry in Tullamore this year while they have been away to Meath and Carlow – their final game is away to Wicklow.
Offaly manager Michael Fennelly explained this afternoon: “There are a couple of small reasons and they are more Covid related than anything else. The dressing rooms are much bigger and spacious than Birr. They are more suitable for social distancing, they are higher and bigger. We all saw the mess in Wexford and the results of that.”
He also referred to a suitable warm up area in Tullamore behind the dressing rooms – they would have to cross the road to another field in Birr. “Tullamore is just handy at the moment. We haven't played in Birr in a year and we were conscious of that. We have played and trained in Tullamore. They are all small enough reasons. Plus there is no crowds whether it is Birr or Tullamore so it shouldn't really matter.”
The Kilkenny man is aware of the desire of some supporters in the hurling heartland in south Offaly for games in Birr and he stressed that he has no problem with the venue. “We are happy to play in Birr or Tullamore but with Covid, it made more sense on this occasion. Birr is as wide as Tullamore and is a great field. I look forward to crowds in Birr and playing games there. There is a serious atmosphere there.
“I know there is stuff going on in the background about Tullamore or Birr. I am happy to play in both. They are two great grounds and Birr have done a lot of work. Their facilities have improved.”
Offaly GAA chairman Michael Duignan confirmed that they agreed to the management's request. “We haven't played in Birr in a long time plus there is the Covid factor. The management requested it. They have trained there a few times, there is the dressing rooms, the space in O'Connor Park and the Covid regulations. A big factor is that there is no crowds. If crowds were allowed, we probably wouldn't have changed.”
He added: “It is a huge match for us and these are just small margins. It is a new team, they have been training in O'Connor Park and they have played Kerry there.”
Duignan revealed that they will be meeting Birr GAA Club in the coming weeks to discuss matches in St Brendan's Park. “We are committed to inter-county hurling in Birr and club matches there. We are very conscious that Birr have invested heavily. It is a one off scenario and Down are travelling here as well, it is closer to them.”
Michael Fennelly confirmed that there have been no new injuries for the game against Down. Offfaly are in pole position for promotion and he said “It is a big weekend for Offaly. Down could have it on the head to head if anything happens. It is a very big game.”
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