Belfast Telegraph

'Team Ulster' hurling plan bites the dust

Telegraph Sport: where the debate starts

With Declan Bogue

Suddenly, just like that, the entire concept of a hurling 'Team Ulster' disappears like a puff of smoke.

There were persuasive arguments. Someone as clever as Dónal Óg Cusack can always produce thoughtful and persuasive rhetoric.

Some journalists had already taken up the cause years previously and displayed what could be done if counties were prepared to forgo their own identity to come together to compete as a provincial team.

Telling statistics were offered up, telling us that the average margin of defeat for Antrim teams in the under-21 All-Ireland series was around the 20-point mark. Before Saturday's match against Wexford, the points handicap was set at 18 and the Leinster champions were priced at 80/1 on to win the tie.

Reports from Antrim spoke of a dozen hurlers at training, and club football fixtures being held at the same time as the hurling game. The prospect of a win simply wasn't considered. Antrim played with a sweeper because they felt they needed to keep things tight. Avoid a hiding, in other words.

Instead, something magical happened. They got out in front. Conor Clarke was on form from dead balls. They stayed in front. They withstood waves of Wexford attacks and won by two points. The first team from Ulster into an All-Ireland U-21 final.

To their immense credit, manager Kevin Ryan and his selector Neil McManus are not claiming they worked a miracle. They know that this came out of nowhere, enjoyable as it is.

From such events must come a realisation that Antrim hurlers can compete. And they won't do it without the help of the county board, and the commitment of the players.

Belfast Telegraph

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