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United Ulster would boost hurling: Duffy

By John Campbell

The All-Ireland Championship is widening the appeal of hurling to such an extent that even those who have long since regarded the sport as being 'inferior' to football are suddenly singing from a different hymn sheet.

Following a series of utterly enthralling matches, four 'new' semi-finalists have emerged Dublin, Cork, Clare and Limerick.

Indeed the absence of Kilkenny, Waterford, Tipperary and Galway from the penultimate stage of the premier competition is very much a rarity in the modern era.

Perhaps the most surprising omission is that of long-time champions Kilkenny, beaten in the quarter-finals by Cork last Sunday.

And the switch in the balance of power at the top is complemented by a strong desire to see greater uniformity and competitiveness generated further down the scale.

In this respect the concept of a Team Ulster participating in the All-Ireland series has gained rapidly in credibility, not least because it has secured the backing of no less a figure than GAA Director General Paraic Duffy.

This topic has been the subject of debate recently, the consensus being that such a side would represent those eight counties in the province other than Antrim who would continue to chart their own course in the Ulster, Leinster and All-Ireland Championships.

Duffy's views on the subject are far from ambiguous, too.

"If you were to put a Team Ulster into the All-Ireland Senior Championship, with or without Antrim, it would help to promote and develop the game," said Duffy.

"Ideally it should be without Antrim. Antrim should be good enough to be able to stand on its own two feet.

" Okay, it's a small county, but they should be at least as good as Offaly, for example.

"So let Antrim stand alone and then let the other eight teams come together to form a Team Ulster.

"That's where everyone should be aiming to get to. That would make absolute sense for everyone."

His sentiments could prove the spark that would fire a whole new development within the province while his views on Antrim's status make sense.

County chairman Jim Murray, secretary Frankie Quinn and team manager Kevin Ryan are among those who are hardly likely to favour surrendering the county's autonomy.

Antrim has flown the flag for Ulster in the Leinster Championship for the past three years without quite making an emphatic breakthrough, but their presence, along with that of Galway, has lent an extra dimension to the competition.

Duffy, too, makes the very relevant point that many inter-county hurling matches are not only staged at a financial loss, but fail to play a part in promoting or developing the sport, particularly in those areas where it is perceived to be weak.

"There is not much point in staging matches that fulfil no real purpose in terms of propagating the sport," stresses Duffy.

"There are a lot of games in the Christy Ring Cup, the Lory Meagher Cup and in the lower divisions of the league which do not help to develop the teams playing in them and by extension the sport itself."

Belfast Telegraph

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