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gaa comment It was like a journey back in time... the media took ownership of a dug-out in the first half

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Conor McDonald celebrates after scoring the first Wexford goal. Photos: Sportsfile

Conor McDonald celebrates after scoring the first Wexford goal. Photos: Sportsfile

Conor McDonald celebrates after scoring the first Wexford goal. Photos: Sportsfile

I finished a GAA journey of sorts last Saturday. After more than four decades in this business, I finally reported on a match in Belfast’s Corrigan Park.

Previously I had been to the designated county GAA grounds in the other 31 counties as well as GAA venues in London, New York, Sydney, San Francisco and Boston. But the picturesque west Belfast venue, overlooked by the Black Mountain, had eluded me.

Corrigan Park has only become Antrim’s designated ground since the closure of Casement Park, whose redevelopment has been delayed for years.

It was like a journey back in time. There were no press facilities; the media took ownership of a dug-out in the first half.

But when the wind swept the summer showers straight into our vantage point at half time, we sought refuge in the new stand which was completed last year.

Watching a game from ground level is an eye-opener. It illustrates the physical demands on the players and the speed at which the game is played at.

Of course, there is the slight risk of being hit by a stray sliotar.

It reminded me of an occasion in Parnell Park in the company of colleagues Seán Óg Ó Ceallacháin and Bob Hyland, both now sadly deceased.

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Antrim substitute Ciarán Clarke picking off a second-half point despite the best efforts of Wexford’s Connal Flood. Photos by Sportsfile

Antrim substitute Ciarán Clarke picking off a second-half point despite the best efforts of Wexford’s Connal Flood. Photos by Sportsfile

Antrim substitute Ciarán Clarke picking off a second-half point despite the best efforts of Wexford’s Connal Flood. Photos by Sportsfile

We were sitting behind a table along the side-line watching an increasingly tempestuous Dublin club championship game between Cuala and Craobh Chiaráin.

Inevitably a melee broke out just in front of us and one combatant was sent flying over the media table, scattering everybody.

Nowadays, every reporter comes to a game with a laptop and a mobile phone. But technology and rain are incompatible.

So, in the second half it was back to a sodden notebook and a pen. As for a match report on the whistle, forget it.

Back to last Saturday. It was a cracking game, with the second half lasting just shy of 47 minutes. Antrim secured a deserved draw with the last puck of the game from midfielder Keelan Molloy, much to the delight of their fans.

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St John’s-Naomh Eoin GAA club were genial hosts and reserved a corner of the clubhouse for us afterwards.

Former MP and Sein Finn leader Gerry Adams was an interested spectator. But inevitably it was Davy Fitzgerald who grabbed the headlines. He was dispatched to the stand after an altercation with Antrim boss Darren Gleeson before half time.

Just our luck, we were on the far side of the pitch and only caught snatches of what went on. But a non-apologetic Davy declared afterwards:

“All I know is I want to win. I have a huge desire in me to win and I don’t care, I want to win. I don’t think that will change and I think if you take that fight out of the dog you are in trouble.

“People would love to see me quiet and saying nothing on the side-line but if I feel something, if I am passionate about something I am going after it. That’s it, end of story.”

As I have often suggested, we will really miss Davy when he finally decides to walk into the sunset.

One suspects that on a cold February Sunday, Corrigan Park would be a bleak spot.

But in terms of its settings it is right up there with Sligo’s Markievicz Park and Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney, which are overlooked by Benbulben and the Macgillycuddy Reeks respectively.

All 32 venues and a few more besides – for instance, Duggan Park in Ballinasloe used to host inter-county games– all hold memories – good, bad and bizarre.

We never imagined we would end up reporting on an All-Ireland final from a virtually deserted Croke Park a week before Christmas.

Unquestionably the return of fans - which I also witnessed at the Armagh v Tyrone league tie the previous week - brings a degree of normality to proceeding.

It was surreal to be able to hear the players talking on the field. Perhaps the best lesson we can take from the last 16 months is that never ever taken anything for granted again.

Meanwhile, with Antrim staying in the top-flight in 2022, counties south of the border can prepare for more visits to what ex-Tipperary All-Ireland-winning goalkeeper Brendan Cummins said was ‘like going to Galatasaray’.

Steady on Brendan, it’s not that bad, it’s just different. Amazingly different.

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