Birr's Eoghan and Gary Cahill.
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 on Monday: “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.”
Birr GAA chairman John Irwin remarked: “We made our ground available. It is a management decision, it is not our club decision. We always make our ground available as requested and will continue to do so. Where matches are played is a decision for the management committee.”
He revealed that the Management Committee are in occasional contact with Birr GAA Club. “We are all in the one game and we want the best for everyone in the county and the promotion of our games. At the end of the day we all have the same goal and the only way to achieve this is working together.”
Mr Irwin added: “We are developing our ground and we have invested in our grounds to present an option for the County Board to play games right across the county. We want to promote our games right across the county and that is our aim. It is a significant investment by a club to do that. We have discussions with the County Board from time to time. Ultimately, these are management decisions. Birr is available if they want it and we will continue to present our grounds as best we can. People will accept we have made a significant investment.”
He concluded: “One thing we all want is for Offaly to beat Down and hopefully get to division 1. That is the key thing.”
Michael Fennelly 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. Offaly 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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