Creggan aim to inspire others to glory
The glowing promise of a rich haul of silverware helped to sustain a strong burst of early-season hurling fervour in the province. But if January fuelled dreams, then February delivered stark reality.
Antrim's tenure in the Walsh Cup was short-lived, Down's Kehoe Cup semi-final joust with Kildare yielded a frustrating one-point defeat and in the inter-provincial semi-final, Ulster buckled against Leinster on an 8-18 to 1-21 scoreline.
The dividends at club level initially appeared lucrative but here again fate dealt the province a cruel hand with Loughgiel rather surprisingly succumbing to Mount Leinster Rangers in their All-Ireland semi-final and Clooney Gaels finding Kilkeneny's Rower Inistioge too strong at intermediate level.
It was left to Kickhams Creggan to fly the flag for the province in style when they overcame fancied Ballysaggart, the Waterford and Munster champions, in Saturday's All-Ireland junior club final (1-11 to 1-7).
Having been held to a draw in the first meeting between the sides the previous week-end, it was felt in many quarters that the Antrim outfit had missed the boat.
But a herculean display highlighted by supreme courage and quality finishing by Conor Small, Conor McCann and Oran McCann in particular eventually took the side to glory.
Now club chairman Tony McCollum believes that his team's triumph can prove an inspiration to other teams.
"We tend to be thought of as country cousins in hurling terms here in Ulster but anything is possible if you really put your mind to it. I must say that I am absolutely delighted that we have been crowned All-Ireland junior club champions but this is only the start as far as we are concerned.
"We want to make hurling better and stronger in our club, the county and the province as a whole," states McCollum.
The setbacks encountered by the various teams from Ulster have even led to suggestions that hurling in this part of the world is in crisis but this is robustly dismissed by Ulster Council officials.
Even Ulster's 18-point caning by Leinster is put into perspective by the team's liaison officer Jimmy Darragh.
"Ulster played against a gale in the first-half, conceded three early goals, faced a big deficit at half-time and yet won the second half. They landed 22 scores against a strong Leinster side – that was no disgrace," contends Darragh.