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Antrim require same help from authorities that revived Dublin's fortunes

ON Saturday, GAA President Liam O'Neill unveiled his plans to grant €45,000 per annum to four counties – Laois, Antrim, Westmeath and Carlow – who have been identified as teams who could make the breakthrough and live among more established and traditional hurling super powers.

It is not an exact science. It can't be, given how random the nature of competitive sport is. Especially one like hurling.

The day after, Derry, beaten by Kerry to the tune of 18 points in their league opener, took on Westmeath in Mullingar and beat them up a stick, 3-11 to 0-8.

There is no chance Derry can hop on the gravy train, but you imagine they are one of the chasing pack when O'Neill talks about rolling out the scheme to other counties, providing there is enough hard evidence of standards improving across the board.

The same day in Parnell Park, Dublin played out a tough affair against All-Ireland champions Clare and finished the evening as the winning team. The week before, Clare had punctured another hole in the armour of the crumbling Kilkenny and Dublin had got a bit of a trimming out west against Galway.

This is where Dublin are at now, the combination of a long-term, persistent and charismatic manager in Anthony Daly and sustained funding from supporters' group Friends of Dublin Hurling creating a team that think nothing of beating the All-Ireland champions.

In 2010, Antrim met Dublin in a Championship match in Croke Park and deservedly won. That evening, Daly questioned whether his message was getting through to the players and wondered if all the time and effort was worth it.

His players answered him by going on to win the National League the following season. They had another dip during 2012 but last year were sensational in winning the Leinster title. Truly fairytale stuff from an honest group of hurlers.

But it wasn't just hard work that got them to that point.

During Sean Kelly's Presidency, an annual present of €1million was made available from the Irish Sports Council to fund GAA activities in the Dublin area. 2011 was the sixth year of the scheme.

Although the likes of leading lights in the Friends of Dublin Hurling movement such as Humphrey Kelleher would rubbish the notion that there is a correlation, the money led to an influx of full-time coaches in Dublin, averaging around one per club.

While Dublin kept the faith and kept managers and improved players, Antrim did everything the wrong way, culminating in the disaster of the Jerry Wallace era. From delivering a credible performance in an All-Ireland quarter-final against Cork, they are trapped in a tailspin.

Manager Kevin Ryan is steadfast in his belief that he is blooding youngsters and building a new team, but for how long have we heard that rhetoric from Antrim managers? And at what point do you start to feel for the emotional scarring and dampened expectations a generation of hurlers receive from routine guttings?

Antrim need a lot of things. They need some harmony among some of their more illustrious clubs for one thing and they need to cultivate more potential county managers, but they also need some tender care from the GAA.

Just as Dublin received.

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