Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 December 2014

Loughgiel's heavy defeat has raised questions about wellbeing of local hurling

Ulster hurling finds itself at a crossroads following the surprisingly heavy defeat of Loughgiel by St Thomas's in the All Ireland club semi-final and the setback encountered by the provincial side at the hands of Munster in the inter-provincial championship semi-final on Sunday.

A number of high-profile personnel within the province have over the course of the past twenty-four hours privately expressed serious concerns about the welfare of the sport, suggesting that "something needs to be done" without quite offering possible remedial courses of action.

But Antrim secretary Frankie Quinn, a former Ulster hurling development officer and a man with the best interests of the sport at heart, is unafraid to put his head above the parapet and pinpoint what he feels are the real reasons for Ulster's current loss of credibility.

"Much is being made of Loughgiel's loss but let's get real here," states Quinn, "This is a team which lost six Antrim finals before they eventually won one. Then they went on to win two Ulster club titles and a first All-Ireland title for thirty years. The same group of players reached this year's All-Ireland semi-final and only lost after a replay."

And Quinn gives an insight into what he feels is the "extraordinary commitment" of the Loughgiel players.

"A lot of these boys are in or around thirty and have a lot of miles on the clock yet they are still extraordinarily committed to the cause. They have given everything as has their manager P J O'Mullan. Maybe it's time to go back to the drawing board but these boys owe their club or their county nothing," insists Quinn.

And Loughgiel's fall from grace coincides with a slump in Ulster's fortunes on the inter-provincial front, their 3-20 to 1-14 defeat by Munster having been rooted in a spectacular scoring spree by the visitors that had ended the game as a contest by half-time.

"The Ulster side were only able to have one meaningful training session for this game for a variety of reasons," points out Quinn, "That is certainly not adequate preparation for confronting a team like Munster which is packed with household names. I think that the timing of the inter-provincial series is wrong and Ulster's situation was not helped by the fact that the Loughgiel players were not available to manager Gregory O'Kane."

Quinn suggests that the inter-pro series could be accommodated when the latter stages of the All Ireland championship have been reached.

"Only a few teams will be involved in the action then and it should still be possible for the provinces to field decent sides and have the competition played off in better weather and maybe in front of better crowds," says Quinn.

And he calls for the All-Ireland club competition to be played off in the same calendar year.

"Let's do away with carrying matches over to the following year and making the competition a really protracted affair.

"This would further facilitate the start of the Allianz League" he suggests.

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