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Ulster is not getting fair crack of whip: Mickey Johnston

By Declan Bogue

Down hurling manager Mickey Johnston has criticised the GAA's policy of allowing players to declare for designated weaker counties, stating that the field "isn't even" for Ulster.

While the rule has helped some counties improve their standing in the game, Johnston states that there is widespread abuse of the system, which in effect only favours counties south of the Galway-Dublin line.

"There are no qualifications for these guys getting to play for another county. There are guidelines, but the reality of it is that if a guy is willing to travel from Tipperary or Clare to hurl for Meath, you can't beat that," Johnston told the Belfast Telegraph.

While the facility is open to any county not competing in the Liam MacCarthy Cup, the geographical isolation of Ulster means there is little chance of acquiring players from the heartlands of south Leinster and Munster.

Employment opportunities on the eastern seaboard and growing urbanisation means that satellite counties of Dublin, such as Meath and Wicklow, have been able to acquire a number of new players.

Singling out Antrim's weekend opponents Roscommon as an example, Johnston explained: "It's not Roscommon, it's Roscommon and Galway. They have five Galway hurlers in their side. You are allowed five.

"You are only supposed to compete up to the Christy Ring, but Kerry have them not only in the National League, but they are going to come in for the Leinster Championship.

"If Kerry produce a result in the Leinster Championship, will there be a backlash from the stronger counties to say this can't happen anymore?"

He went on to examine the make-up of the current Kerry team, who beat Derry in last year's Christy Ring final.

"They weren't beaten by Kerry," said Johnston of Derry. "They were beaten by a Munster select.

"They have three Tipperary men and two Clare men playing for them, who have all won All-Ireland Championships at minor or Under-21 level. In fact, some of them have won senior All-Irelands."

That last reference is to Patrick Kelly, who was part of Davy Fitzgerald's All-Ireland winning Clare squad in 2013.

Johnston added: "Roscommon are the same, they have Galway men playing with them and Mayo have Galway men playing with them.

"To be fair to Derry, they didn't really play Roscommon, they played Roscommon with a select from Galway."

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