Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Darragh talks up Ulster hurling positives

Antrim ace: Stephen McAfee is in the Under-21 Allstars team

Ulster Hurling Development Manager Jimmy Darragh believes the sport here is much healthier than many people realise.

Darragh, whose dedication is one of the reasons why significant advances have been made at grassroots level, maintains he prefers to "talk up the positives".

"I would consider that Antrim's arrival in the All Ireland Under-21 final in which they were beaten by Clare was a very significant step forward," insists Darragh. "It is worth remembering that many shrewd hurling judges would contend that this Clare side is more than capable of beating many senior county teams such are their fitness, skills and technique levels.

"Antrim now have two players, Stephen McAfee and Ciaran Clarke, included in the Allstars Under-21 team and that has never happened."

Darragh is convinced, too, that Loughgiel can make a bold bid for the All-Ireland title once again.

"They have of course still to meet Slaughtneil in the Ulster final but they are already setting the standard. I think they could maybe go all the way in the All-Ireland series," declares Darragh.

Clare's emergence as a major hurling force will, he believes, provide the incentive for Ulster counties to respond to what is a fresh challenge.

"For many years Kilkenny reigned supreme but now Clare are the new kings and the challenge is there for every other county to knock them off their throne. Ulster counties can learn from the way that Clare have encouraged their development squad, persevered with youth, put heavy emphasis on physical fitness and improved their technique out of all recognition," states Darragh.

"I have talked to many coaches in Ulster who are seeing what has worked for Clare and they are anxious to bring it up here."

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