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Hasson: A top Ulster league can raise our standards

By Michael Hasson

Published 02/02/2016

At the helm: new Ulster GAA President Michael Hasson wants a province-wide club hurling league but dismissed the idea of a combined 'Team Ulster'
At the helm: new Ulster GAA President Michael Hasson wants a province-wide club hurling league but dismissed the idea of a combined 'Team Ulster'

Fresh from being elected as the new President of Ulster GAA, Rasharkin's Michael Hasson has dismissed the notion of a combined 'Team Ulster' playing hurling at the highest level.

The idea of a merged provincial side has been touted for a number of years by prominent pundits and journalists, most notably the current Clare selector and former Cork goalkeeper Donal Óg Cusack.

However, such an experiment would seem overly ambitious given the new President's view.

Asked if he is open to having a conversation about the possibility of a 'Team Ulster', the 36th provincial President explained: "I don't mind having the conversation about it, and I have had several conversations about it. But on the ground, 'Team Ulster' would not work.

"You would be putting a team in to represent such a wide area that I can't see what that would do for the individual counties and clubs.

"If you take the number of clubs in Antrim, Down - and then you are down to Armagh, Derry - I just don't know how many players would come from each of those counties. It doesn't add up."

Instead, he would like to see a province-wide club league, which would pit the likes of Kevin Lynch's and Slaughtneil of Derry against the best Antrim club sides, such as Ruairi Óg Cushendall and Loughgiel Shamrocks.

"What I would be keen to push would be a top Ulster league, where the top teams would play each other, and even an Intermediate one," Hasson commented.

"If you could have the top teams playing against each other, I think that would raise the standard.

"I could live with the likes of a Tyrone or Fermanagh team coming into a league like that. I think we have to have the top teams playing against each other more regularly and trying to raise the standards there."

While Hasson has admitted he would like to see an Ulster team win the football All-Ireland in his Presidency and also expressed his desire to see Antrim regain entry to the Liam MacCarthy Cup, there are other tangible goals to be achieved with the building of a new Casement Park, and the upgrading of facilities among club properties to reflect a growing female membership.

"I do feel we need a provincial stadium. There is no question about that, we need a modern provincial stadium. Almost half the population of Northern Ireland is in greater Belfast, so that would be the place for it," he said.

"We are working hard, there are one or two hurdles to cross but we are working hard on that. It is a realistic objective.

"On infrastructure, I would like to develop club grounds to give accommodation for local clubs. More and more females are attracted to the games.

"Over the last number of years, and in last year's Ulster Championship, it's almost getting to 50-50 - not quite that, but close.

"And when you have mothers going to games you have children, so I would like to see the amenities and facilities to give them a wee bit of comfort at club grounds, and progress our secondary county grounds.

"We are fairly well there over Ulster in our main county grounds with the exception of Casement Park. We are working on our secondary county grounds, that will continue. We would like to see practical facilities and amenities for our club spectators."

The last provincial President from Antrim was Seamus McFerran, who served in that role from 1949 to 1951.

He later served as national President from 1955-58. The Ulster senior football club Championship trophy is named after him.

While Hasson maintains he has no desire to follow that career path, he spoke of his pride after Saturday's ceremony.

"I always felt that wherever I was, if I could express an opinion, to have it heard in the right places. I do feel I have come up through all levels of it, and have seen how good the GAA has been for the youth of rural and urban areas," he said.

"I am a firm believer from that point of view and if I got something to do, I did it. I had no ambitions to be where I am today, there was nothing set out, it just happened and I just progressed."

Belfast Telegraph

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