Fears grow for the future of hurling in Ulster
Major concerns have emerged over the future of Ulster underage hurling following an alarming decline which left Antrim and Derry facing embarrassment this year.
Antrim came close to withdrawing from the All-Ireland U-21 semi-final with Dublin in August as they struggled to assemble a squad, while Derry had earlier withdrawn from the Ulster championship, having been unable to field a team.
There are fears that the malaise may spread to the Derry senior grade amid warnings that, unless clubs show greater co-operation, future involvement in the Allianz League could be in doubt.
Cavan no longer compete in the League while Antrim have withdrawn from the Walsh Cup.
However, it's the fall-off at underage level which is most alarming, especially as it has spread to Antrim and Derry.
“Any drop in standards is a worry and, yes, underage hurling is under pressure in Ulster,” said Ulster Council chairman, Aogán Farrell.
News that Antrim came close to conceding a walkover to Dublin in the All-Ireland U-21 semi-final stunned the hurling world.
Nobody expected them to beat the Leinster champions, but it wasn't widely known that they were having difficulty assembling a team a few hours before throw-in. Antrim were beaten by 26 points but at least they fulfiled the fixture, unlike Derry who withdrew from the Ulster championship.
The Saffrons' minors also had a humiliating experience, losing by 38 points to Galway in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
Antrim had beaten Derry by 18 points in the Ulster final, further underlining the low standard which prevailed in the province.
Farrell said that the introduction of the Táin hurling League, which will feature club teams from Ulster counties joining with counterparts from Louth, Longford, Leitrim and Sligo in a special competition next spring should bring about an improvement as it will give players more games than in previous years.
- The first-round games in the Sigerson Cup will be played either on Tuesday, January 31 or Wednesday, February 1, with NUIG to host the Sigerson Cup semi-finals and final on February 24/25.
Sigerson Cup, Round 1: NUI Galway v St Mary's, Belfast; UUJ v UL; DCU v Cork IT; DIT v IT Carlow; IT Tralee v IT Sligo; UCC v GMIT; Queen's University Belfast v NUI Maynooth; UCD v Athlone IT.
Trench Cup, Round 1: Mary Immaculate College v IT Blanchardstown; Letterkenny IT v IT Tallaght; Waterford IT v BMC; St Pat's, Drumcondra v Dundalk IT; UU Coleraine v Limerick IT. Quarter-Finals: Mary I/ITB v UUC/LIT; LKIT/ITT v WIT/BMC; Trinity College v St Pat's Drumcondra/DKIT.
Corn na Mac Leinn, Round 1: Mater Dei v UU Magee; GMIT Castlebar v GMIT Letterfrack; LIT Tipperary v NCI; The Law School v St Pat's, Thurles.