An Attack of the Clones: 9 Things About the Ulster Final

This Sunday it’s back. Clones in July. Can only mean one thing and that’s the Ulster Football Final. This year Donegal GAA and Tyrone GAA renew acquaintance. Yes we know that. 

Most people, other than the people who live there have rarely ventured to Clones for reasons other than attending a match at St Tiernach’s Park. And that is more the pity.  It rewards a trip and a stay in the off-season too. It’s fun, and it’s friendly. For those who don’t know it, Clones is a small market town in North Monaghan. The people are friendly and they are stoic about their twin causes of fame. Ulster football and Barry McGuigan. Yes, for those of an age, the Clones Cyclone was the big story in Irish boxing

1 Getting There

Everyone knows and goes a different way to Clones. It can depend on your point of departure. Some people favour going via Lisnaskea. Others cut through Tydavnet. One preferred route is via Maguiresbridge. Some go via Monaghan Town. But it is the short cuts and narrow country roads that bring you there that distinguish one journey from another. I don’t know two people who always go the same way. And we wouldn’t have it any other way. Which way do you go?

2 Where to Park in Clones?

Well, the parking situation really depends on the road you take. One of the problems of taking a different road is that you may find yourself in unfamiliar territory in Clones and therefore parking becomes problematic. I know people who can’t tell you where to park in Clones until they actually get there, and then the memories come flooding back.  Sometimes these can be of the post traumatic variety, as a wrong choice of car park can mean a long sit, waiting for traffic to clear. On a wet day, that’s hell on earth.

3  What to Do in Clones When You Get there

Walk. Yes, unless you’re privy to one of the coveted Ulster GAA parking permits shoe leather is a necessity. I know one fella he parks so far from the actual pitch I think he’s still in Fermanagh. But you know what he does? He removes a bicycle from his boot and cycles the remaining three miles to the pitch. Others just walk. It’s a GAA pilgrimage to the top of the Hill in Clones to watch that O’Neills size 5 thrown in. Bliss.

4  Ah Yes, The Hill At Clones

Many’s the dreams held dear going up it and the hopes dashed coming back down again. Some people trudge along the stony grey path in silent contemplation. Others buoyant, full of enthusiasm. And stout. The throng on the hill. You never know who you’d meet either. Neighbour, friend, foe. Former All Star, current player.

5 I Love the Smell of Burgers in the Summer. Smells Like. . .

There can be a curious separation between the smell of burgers and onions on the way up to the match at Clones, and their actual taste. The smell assails you, wafting through the nose. Your brain is insisting, I have to have some of that. If you succumb. The heaped onions, slice of galvanised rubber cheese, jet of ketchup, soft bun. Bite, squelch and shot of burger mix all over your new O’Neills jersey. Sometimes the taste doesn’t disappoint. Oftentimes is does.

6 Hang Sandwiches and Tay

The oldest cliché in the book, but the tastiest, Best eaten out of a car boot. The Club biscuit. The crushed Tayto crisps. Tasty boy. Men standing munching on a sandwich gazing into the distance. I know men go to Clones just to eat sandwiches and gaze into the distance. If they get to the match at all, sure it’s all a bonus at Clones.

7 Creighton’s Hotel

Meeting place. Pick up a ticket. See people you haven’t seen in years. See you in Creighton’s. Aye right. On a warm summer’s day it’s the place to spy everyone passing by. A good spot too on a non-match day. Bottom of the Hill. Top of the list.

8  Hats, Flags and Headbands

Of course. Maybe the last few choc-ices too. If you’re going on Sunday, enjoy. The Ulster Final. Nothing like it.

9  The Match Itself

It’s been all Donegal in recent years. The Men from the Hills seem to have the Indian sign on Tyrone. There’ll be no quarter asked or given, and that’s only in the Pat McGrane stand. Will Tyrone’s running and counter attacking game be better than Donegal’s running and counter attacking game? Who knows, but once you’ve made the trip, parked the car, had the sandwiches, tasted the burger, walked up the Hill and experienced the Clones experience, sure where else would you rather be.