Anto hoping Dubs travel in numbers
By Daire Walsh
WITH just seven days to go to the ‘Game For Anto’ clash between 2013 All-Ireland Champions Dublin and The Irish News Ulster GAA Allstars at Kingspan Stadium, expectation is beginning to rise.
This game is being played in honour of former Antrim footballer Anto Finnegan, who was diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease two years ago.
Speaking yesterday at the DoubleThree by Hilton Hotel, Finnegan – who is the co-founder of the deterMND Trust – is hopeful that a big support from the south will be in attendance at the home of Ulster Rugby.
“We would be expecting close to a sell-out,” he said. “It’s an 18,000-seater stadium, so we would hope to be pushing up to that.
“We’re looking forward to a big support travelling from Dublin, maybe come up and do their Christmas shopping on the Saturday morning, and then go the game in the evening because the stadium is quite central.
“We’ve put on a number of park and ride facilities for people who aren’t familiar with going to the area in and around that stadium.
“There’s good public transport to the stadium. It’s a train into the central station, and a five-minute taxi ride or a five-minute bus ride to the actual stadium door.
“Logistically, getting to the stadium is straightforward. We’re looking forward to a big support, not just across Ulster, but from Dublin as well.”
Finnegan was in Dublin to meet South African rugby legend Joost van der Westhuizen, who was also diagnosed with MND back in 2011 and has been confined to a wheelchair for more than a year. This highlights further the impact that the condition can have.
As Finnegan explains, they are not the only athletes to have suffered from the disease but, given the platform he had as a former inter-county player, he was more than happy to raise awareness for the condition.
Finnegan said: “People would be very surprised at the number of people that have been diagnosed with the condition, to be honest with you.
“Don Revie [former Leeds United and England manager] had the condition, as did Jimmy Johnstone who played for Celtic. Fernando Ricksen, who played for Rangers, was diagnosed in the last year-and-a-half.
“American Footballer OJ Brigance, [Steve] Gleason, who plays for New Orlean Saints, have been diagnosed with the condition in the last couple of years.
“Quite a number of sporting people have been diagnosed with the condition. Again, for us, it’s looking at the awareness angle.
“I suppose, from having an inter-county career, I had a ready-made platform available to me to raise as much awareness as possible. That was one of the keys things we wanted to do.
“I just felt I was in a position to do that. That was one of the reasons that I went public with the condition.”
In addition to supporting a great cause, next Saturday’s encounter will also prove to be an historic one, as The Irish News Ulster Allstars will be playing together for the very first time.
Finnegan feels that the involvement of the province’s best footballers will add to the uniqueness of the occasion, and is also thrilled that Jim Gavin’s Metropolitans have agreed to take part in the event.
“The Irish News Ulster All-Stars, it was probably about 20 years ago that they were formed. The team, in itself, has never actually lined out together.
“What we were trying to do with the event as a whole was to try and make the event as unique as possible – because Motor Neurone Disease is quite a unique condition, in that it has been documented for over 140 years but we still don’t know what the key causes are. We still don’t have a cure.
“What we wanted to ensure was that this was a showcase event, because we’ve done other events throughout the years.
“We wanted to make sure that this event in particular would sort of match the condition in achieving this. We pushed ourselves really hard to think, what can we do?
“What better way to do that than putting the best players of Ulster together under the umbrella of The Irish News Allstar team against last year’s All-Ireland winning team, Dublin? A team that everybody loves to watch playing football, because they play football the way I believe football should be played.”