Hughes glad inter-pros are a firm fixture
It was a jocular remark that made its' way into the majority of match reports a couple of days later, but it was a joke with a jag.
Ulster had just retained the Inter-provincial Championship at the expense of Munster before a generous crowd at the Athletic Grounds. Captain Darren Hughes accepted the trophy before emphasising the importance of the competition and that they hoped to be able to defend it again, and “Hopefully Christy doesn't get his way!”
He was referring to former GAA President Christy Cooney, who in the lead-up had stated his personal views on the tournament. If a crowd wouldn't turn up to see it, he felt, it would be better off in mothballs.
“There was a lot made of that quote but I suppose I had got to know Christy personally from a few months previously in Australia,” revealed Hughes at Monday's competition launch in Belfast. “It was a bit tongue in cheek. He had a laugh and we had a chat about it afterwards.”
He continued, “I suppose I meant what I said in a sense that when Joe [Kernan] gave me the call-up… You grow up and have ambitions to play for your club, county, province and your country. You just keep aspiring to the higher level. It is mid-boggling to think at times they want to get rid of the Inter-provincial series.”
The launch itself was almost a statement of intent from Ulster GAA, as they threw their might behind the Inter-provincial series. Despite having no formal links with the team, Tyrone manager Mickey Harte and his Antrim counterpart Frank Dawson were present to show their support for the retention of a competition that has been questioned in high office for decades.
Ulster meet Munster in a double-header on February 17th, once more at the Athletic Grounds, and it is clear that the Ulster Council are doing all they can to encourage a large attendance.
Hughes believes that the spectacle seen last year can help them achieve that aim.
“Anyone who was in the Athletic Grounds at that final last year seen a magnificent game with goals, scores, free-flowing football. The biggest issue with it is timing and scheduling. But for two weekends of the year there can be no doubt that it should be played on an annual basis.”
Surprisingly, 2012 was Hughes' first year on the Ulster panel, and he was delighted to have been asked to captain the team by manager Joe Kernan.
“You were captaining boys like Benny Coulter and Owen Mulligan. Growing up, I was watching them at school lifting All-Irelands. I was taken aback a bit at having to give a speech before a game.
“You had leaders all around the dressing room. You had confidence in everybody and you didn't have to give real rousing speeches.”
The rousing words might just be confined to the upper reaches of GAA administration again!