All aboard for Ulster hurling championship
Chairman Aogán Farrell believes that the Ulster Council’s commitment to hurling is best illustrated by the fact that all nine counties, as well as London, participate in the provincial championship.
“We are the only province that fields a full complement of teams in its flagship hurling competition and we are proud of that,” he explains.
“There is no Connacht Championship, Kerry do not take part in the Munster Championship and several Leinster counties are not involved in their Championship,” adds Farrell.
“This leaves us leading the way in terms of giving every side an equal chance of obtaining success, in my view,” points out Farrell.
And he goes on: “The Ulster Championship has now acquired a fresh status and the game here is all the better for that.
“It is much more competitive and this is due in no small measure to the investment in time made by the Ulster Council, the various coaches and the players themselves, particularly those in counties which have not been regarded as vibrant hurling counties in the past.”
With his year’s provincial championship due to start on Saturday, Farrell is urging stronger support for hurling and points to the progress made last year.
“Tyrone, which is a very strong football county, still won the Lory Meagher Cup in hurling while Armagh made a big breakthrough recently when they won the Minor League ‘A’ Final in which there was some very good sides.
“These are certainly encouraging portents and I have no doubt that this year’s championship will see a higher level of skill and intensity,” points out Farrell.
And he urges those counties who might not be regarded as being among the favourites to succeed to “reach for the stars” adding: “Isn’t every team entitled to dream?
“All sides shed their own levels of blood, sweat and tears and even if they don’t attain rewards in terms of trophies they know they will have given it their best shot,” he adds.
Farrell also calls for hurlers in Ulster to be afforded the same level of respect as that accorded to inter-county footballers.
“Sometimes our hurlers are left behind and that should not be so,” he says.
“Their commitment is just as great, their enthusiasm just as energetic.
“They have their ideals and their goals and they should be encouraged at all times.
“The Ulster Council is fully behind them all,” insists the chairman.
With Donegal due to host Armagh, Tyrone at home to Cavan and Fermanagh hosting Monaghan, Saturday’s first round matches will offer teams the chance to cross swords with Derry, Down or London in the next phase.
Antrim, who are due to meet Offaly in the Leinster Championship, are already through to the Ulster final in the pre-ordained draw.