Return of fans welcomed ahead of Irish Cup final

Mid and East Antrim councillor Keith Turner has hailed the imminent return of sports fans to matches as a great result for local football.

Friday, 14th May 2021, 11:32 am

On Thursday, the Executive announced crowds of up to 500 will be allowed to gather for sporting fixtures.

The Executive has agreed to use the Sadler’s Peaky Blinder Irish Cup final as part of a study to inform the future safe return of spectators to large scale venues.

The cup final on May 21 at Mourneview Park in Lurgan will be used as a learning event. Up to 1,000 fans will be able to sign up to attend.

Ronan Hale was on target for Larne in last night's game at Inver Park. Photo Andrew McCarroll/ Pacemaker Press.

Both Larne FC and Ballymena United will be vying for a place in the showpiece game. Larne take on Crusaders in the first semi-final on May 18 and Ballymena will play Linfield in the second semi-final later that evening.

Welcoming the move, Cllr Turner, who is also a member of the MEA United group, said: “The health and safety of everybody will always be the priority and I commend our health service heroes for their incredible efforts throughout this pandemic, and for the continued rollout of a world-leading vaccination programme.

“Their dedication and commitment is why we are now in a position to begin to look ahead to further easing of the restrictions, including the return of crowds to live sports fixtures.

“It’s a shame that due to Covid, the red and white army haven’t been able to enjoy first-hand the continued brilliant story that is taking place at Larne FC, both on and off the pitch.

“What Kenny, the players and staff have done on the pitch is superb, and is matched by the community outreach work off it.

“These are really exciting times ahead for Larne, as we can see with the new stand at the Church End of Inver, and the announcement by the Executive will give a real boost to fans throughout Mid and East Antrim, and right across Northern Ireland.”

Earlier this year, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and local football clubs Ballymena United, Carrick Rangers and Larne FC launched their ‘blueprint for senior football’ across the borough.

It came after the three NIFL clubs joined forces with MEABC to form MEA United, in a joint bid to secure £25million from the Department for Communities for the development of football stadia across the borough.

The key objectives within the MEA United strategy include bringing football grounds Inver Park in Larne and Taylor’s Avenue in Carrick up to UEFA Category 3 and IFA Regional Hub status, as well as establishing a coach education programme for all three clubs.

It also covers the key aim of developing a national training centre for girls’ and women’s football at The Ballymena Showgrounds, as well as making the stadium a home venue for senior and under-age international fixtures.

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Click here to read Larne book Irish Cup semi-final after edging tense east Antrim derby

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