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Youth competitions take priority for Antrim focus group

By Declan Bogue

The future of Antrim hurling is set to benefit from a series of shake-ups that will be unveiled at the county convention on Wednesday, December 5.

A steering committee headed by the widely-admired coach Jim Nelson will propose a number of steps to take hurling in the Saffron county forward.

The sub-committee was prompted by a conversation that county board chairman Jim Murray held with Nelson after the Ulster final.

Commenting on the genesis of the idea, Nelson said: “Basically the county chairman approached me and said that they would like to formulate a focus group and asked me if I would like to chair it and come up with recommendations for our future improvement and development of hurling in Antrim.”

He continued: “Maybe we didn't have as good a year as we had envisaged and that goes from senior to minor.

“It's with that in mind that he asked if we could come up with a few ideas and see how they would take fruition.”

After recruiting a cross-section of passionate Antrim hurling people such as Dessie Donnelly of Ballycastle, Loughgiel's John Campbell, John Shannon of Tir Na nÓg and county under-21 manager Johnny McIntosh, the committee have met the last nine Monday nights.

They recently brought their findings to the county committee.

And from the feedback they received, they are now gearing up to present their terms for contention and submit them for the forthcoming annual convention.

Top of their priorities has been a restructuring of the youth competitions, greater reliability on a fixtures masterplan, and how youth players progress through the ranks, explains Nelson.

“We have looked at the structure of the Antrim league and we would have ideas in terms of how that would be implemented.

“We also looked at our underage development squads and how we could improve that as an entity within Antrim in development for future years.”

He continued: “The development squads were a part of it and another thing we looked at was an amalgamation of days, to produce a blueprint of a calendar to see what days games are on. It might mean moving a few things around but basically what we are looking at is to get it into a yearly calendar so that everybody knows when they are playing.”

In a move that echoes the recent inclusion of Antrim teams in Leinster competitions, Nelson feels this can be done further down the underage ladder.

He says: “We have looked at how we can progress the under 14s and 16s to minor, and we would have certain ideas on how to branch out and look at entry into other competitions.”

At present, Antrim compete at under-14 level in the Tony Forristal Cup, but if Nelson's proposals are accepted, they could see a great increase in hurling activity.

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