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Last Updated: Friday, 26 September, 2003, 14:10 GMT 15:10 UK
Ulster occupy All-Ireland stage
By John Haughey

All-Ireland Football Final
Almost 80,000 people will watch Sunday's historic all-Ulster decider
Armagh v Tyrone
Croke Park, Dublin, Sunday, 28 Sept, 1530 BST, live on BBC2 NI, Radio Ulster and this website

The gaelic football aristocrats of southern Ireland don't quite know what to make of it all.

Two teams from the six counties, also known in some parts as Northern Ireland, contesting their beloved All-Ireland Football Final.

For one pundit, it became too much with former Kerry great Pat Spillane memorably describing Tyrone's semi-final outmuscling of his own county as "puke football".

Some southern wags are dubbing this year's decider as the All-Britain Final although the excited Armagh and Tyrone hordes are regarding these comments are nothing other than sour grapes.

Almost 80,000 people will pack Dublin's impressive Croke Park stadium on Sunday to witness holders Armagh taking on their bitter rivals Tyrone in this historic all-Ulster clash.

Armagh's victory last year was a body-blow to Tyrone GAA fans who have yet to experience the joy of winning an All-Ireland title.

Prior to 2001, it wouldn't have been possible for two teams from the same Irish province to contest the decider on the fourth Sunday in September - the traditional date for Ireland's biggest sporting occasion.

Under the old system, the winners of the four provincial championships progressed to the All-Ireland semi-finals with every game throughout the summer played on a knockout basis.

However, the GAA moved the championship goalposts in 2001 with a kind of new repechage competition which gave teams a second chance after losing in their provincial championship.

This year, defending All-Ireland champions Armagh have taken full advantage of the "backdoor" as it is commonly dubbed, to move within one match of retaining their title.

Joe Kernan's side were shocked by Monaghan in the preliminary round of the Ulster Championship back in May but they now stand on the threshold of becoming the first team since Cork in 1990 to retain the title.

Gaelic games in Northern Ireland are played almost exclusively by nationalists and such has been the fervour in Armagh and Tyrone in recent weeks, inevitably there have been tensions within the protestant community.

There were some complaints after a Tyrone GAA flag was flown at a fire station in the nationalist-dominated town of Strabane.

BBC Radio Ulster's TalkBack programme came in for some stick as well from unionist listeners when it devoted most of a 90-minute programme to the historic final.

Gary Longwell managed to get an All-Ireland Final ticket
Irish rugby star Gary Longwell will be a fan at the Final

But on the other hand, Ulster and Ireland rugby stars Gary Longwell and Paddy Wallace will be among a small but enthusiastic contingent of protestants who have got their precious tickets for the big game.

And precious pieces of paper they indeed are.

Run-of-the-mill stand tickets are changing hands for over 500 - those who bought them originally will have paid in the order of 35.

The money that will be spinning round the capital over the weekend is all the more remarkable when you consider that the players who will line out on Sunday are amateurs.

Top gaelic footballers get nominal expenses for loss of earnings but the GAA's top-brass have refused pointblank to consider any moves towards pay-for-play.

Big names to look out for on Sunday include Tyrone's captain Peter Canavan and Armagh's inspirational skipper Kieran McGeeney.

More than a few prayers have been said in Tyrone chapels over the past month to aid Canavan's recovery from an ankle injury picked up in the semi-final win over Kerry.

Canavan has been the most gifted player of his generation yet he like every proud Tyrone man who has ever lived, has yet to experience the joy of winning an All-Ireland medal.

This correspondent fancies that to change on Sunday.


SEE ALSO
McDonnell facing McMenamin duel
24 Sep 03  |  Gaelic Games
Armagh and Tyrone unchanged
23 Sep 03  |  Gaelic Games
Armagh doing it for themselves
23 Sep 03  |  Gaelic Games


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