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Hurling Championship has become a poor relation, but stick with it

By Declan Bogue

The Ulster hurling Championship starts this weekend, but then again you already knew that, didn't you?

No? Don't blame you. It's one of the few blind spots on the Ulster Council's otherwise fine record of games promotion.

And it's not that simple for them either. Dwarfed by the behemoth of the football Championship, hurling will never attract the same level of attention in this part of the world. It is now an entrenched position, maintained by county boards, not helped by a lack of imagination in other areas.

Those with hurling in their hearts are burned out by previous initiatives and think-tanks that failed to bear fruit.

Sometimes it just happens.

I would love to see a return to the format the Ulster Council adopted in 2008, when every county - and London - entered the Ulster hurling Championship.

Critics of that structure would cite the inevitable turkey shoots as counties of varying abilities meet, but back then the average margin of defeat over nine games was merely 6.5 points. If you take out the outlier of Derry's 22 point victory over Monaghan, the margin gets even tighter to 4.6 points.

Armagh meet Down on Sunday, evoking memories of 2011, when Armagh won by a single point. They weren't disgraced in the Ulster final either, running Antrim to within eight points. Consider, however, how keen the likes of Tyrone hurlers would be to play in another competition to gauge their progress under the management of Mattie Lennon?

Or even Fermanagh, buoyed by their recent Lory Meagher exploits and promotion to the Nicky Rackard Cup in 2016. Don't they deserve to still be hurling now the June sunshine has made its tentative approach?

Instead their players will go back to their clubs and compete in the Táin league. Organised by the Ulster Council, this competition takes in clubs from Armagh, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Down, Louth, and Donegal.

The difficulty with the league lies in the previous sentence. For Mattock Rangers from Collon, Louth, to play St Eunan's in Letterkenny, Donegal, it requires a round trip of 218 mile. That's a lot of petrol and tyre rubber burned on the roads.

Unsurprisingly, and it's not a fault of the organisers, clubs tend to lose heart early on in the competition if they haven't fared well in the early rounds.

It becomes too easy to ring ahead and forfeit the game.

Perhaps the responsibility lies with county boards to make a truly concerted effort to encourage new clubs. The enforcement of this would be overseen by a respected hurling figure, such as a Paudie Butler.

It could - and should - be done.

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