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13th Dec 2023

“It makes these club games all the more exciting” – Venue decision bang on for All-Ireland semi-finals

Niall McIntyre

The All-Ireland club semi-finals will take place in county grounds this year, rather than the national stadium.

All four club semi-finals were played in Croke Park last season but the general consensus was that they were lost in GAA HQ.

The double-bill of hurling semi-finals certainly wasn’t helped by the fact it took place on the same day as the World Cup final between Argentina and France.

Ballyhale Shamrocks vs Ballygunner was an extremely enticing fixture in that it was the trilogy between two of the greatest hurling clubs of modern times, and that fixture certainly warranted a fervent atmosphere.

GAA HQ was hardly packed to the rafters two weeks later either, for the double-bill of football semi-finals.

The GAA have taken all of this on board a year on in fixing all four semi-finals, across hurling and football, for county grounds.

Ballygunner and St Thomas’ get the ball rolling this Saturday night in O’Moore Park Portlaoise at 7.30, when they throw-in in front of what should be a decent crowd.

Ballygunner are favourites to make it back to the All-Ireland final, having been beaten by Ballyhale at this stage last year, though Galway’s six-in-a-row champs St Thomas are fighting for a cause of their own.

There was only a small crowd in Croke Park for last year’s All-Ireland club hurling semi-finals.

They felt that they under-performed in the semi-final last year, when they lost to Antrim champs Dunloy by four points.

In fact, since winning their maiden All-Ireland club title in March 2013, the Galway club have only won one, against Ruairi Óg Cushendall in 2019, and lost four semi-finals, against Ballyea, Borris-Ileigh, Ballyhale and Dunloy respectively.

Páirc Tailteann in Navan plays host to O’Loughlin Gaels’ clash with Ruairí Óg Cushendall the following day.

The football semi-finals take place after Christmas, as they did last year, and they’re subject to the same treatment. It’s a case of a super Saturday on January 6 with Casltehaven and St Brigid’s first up, at 1.45 in Semple Stadium.

That will play second fiddle to its corresponding fixture, with one of the most anticipated club games of recent years throwing in two hours later in Páirc Esler, Newry. The fact that Kilmacud defeated Glen in last year’s All-Ireland final in extremely controversial circumstances lends this game and extra degree of spice and excitement.

The only issue some supporters will have is that it will be impossible to attend both of those games.

Speaking on this Monday’s GAA Hour, former Tyrone footballer Kyle Coney explained why club games are more suited to smaller grounds, drawing on his experience of commentating on Glen’s Ulster final win over Scotstown in Armagh last Sunday.

“There was just over six thousand in the Athletic Grounds yesterday.

“Number one, just put that into Croke Park plus another maybe couple of thousand, and it’s completely lost.

“Put another ten thousand and it’s still lost. Everyone would be jammed into the Hogan Stand and that’s the atmosphere lost.

“Yes players love playing in Croke but the atmosphere was fabulous there in the Athletic grounds on Sunday. County grounds such as Clones, the Athletic Grounds, they make these club games all the more special,” he said.

Club semi-final fixtures

Saturday December 16

All-Ireland Club SHC semi-final
St Thomas’ v Ballygunner, Portlaoise, 7.30

Sunday December 16

All-Ireland Club SHC semi-final
O`Loughlin Gaels v Cushendall, Pairc Tailteann, 1.30

Saturday January 6

All-Ireland Club SFC semi-finals
St Brigids v Castlehaven, Semple Stadium, 1.45
Kilmacud Crokes v Glen, Newry, 3.45

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