Ulster Council chief Brian McEvoy praised for calendar shift in hurling
TERENCE McNAUGHTON has welcomed the Ulster Council's decision to bring the provincial Senior Hurling Championship forward to April this year.
In a bid to breathe new life into the ailing provincial series, Ulster officials will play the competition off between the end of the National League and the start of the Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard, Lory Meagher competitions.
In recent years, the Ulster Championship has been played at the end of the season - and has been overtaken in prestige by the inception of the tiered national All-Ireland competitions such as the Christy Ring.
"I think it's a good idea," said McNaughton.
"I think the move will give the Ulster Championship a bit more bite while teams are still tuned in for the Christy Ring or Nicky Rackard. I'm glad it's no longer at the end of the season where people are away on holiday and nobody cares about it."
In his address to convention, the Ulster Council's new secretary Brian McEvoy said: "Hurling continues to provide a challenge throughout our Province. The drive to raise standards and to increase the number of games is ongoing and in 2016 it has seen many new challenges along with new initiatives to help improve the game.
"It is however sad to see the interest in the Ulster Championship decline due mainly to the fact that our counties participate in the Ring, Rackard and Meagher Cups, which they regard as their premier Championships.
McEvoy added: "Following a review it has been decided to re-schedule the Ulster Championship to a short window in the calendar between completion of the National Leagues and commencement of the aforementioned national competitions.
"The Ulster Senior Hurling Championship may not have the same appeal as it had in the 1990s but is still the top hurling competition in the province and every effort must be made to preserve it and give it a status worthy of its name."
Division Two and Three of the National Hurling Leagues will be completed by Sunday April 1 and the Christy Ring, Rackard and Meagher Cup competitions begin on Saturday April 22. The Ulster Championship will now be played off the two weeks in between [April 8/9 and April 15/16].
McNaughton, who is joint manager with Antrim this year, added : "There seems to be a problem that Antrim don't take the province as seriously as other counties in other provinces do, and that simply comes with success and dominating the competition. So from that point of view it's hard to put any value on it. So it makes sense to play it earlier in the year."
In his address, McEvoy also drew attention to the heavy beatings the Ulster minor and U21 hurling champions endure when they enter the All-Ireland stage and posed the question: "What is the point of the Ulster Minor and U21 champions continuing to compete outside of the province at a level which is beyond them?"
He added: "There is a compelling case for change and options need to be explored as a matter of urgency... Might Antrim also compete in the round robin section of the
Leinster Senior Hurling Championship in an effort to get more competitive games and improve standards?
"Might participation in Leinster also be extended to the Minor and U21 Championships or should the Ulster Minor and U21 champions compete at ‘B’ level on the All-Ireland stage? The time for the debate is now."
While welcoming the debate, McNaughton believes there is no easy solution.
"We're dealing with those issues in the Hurling Development Committee," he said. "The problem that people don't understand is Antrim's teams could enter Leinster but then Galway is left out... You also have the added problem of exam times north and south; there's a whole ream of issues.
"It's not black and white just to throw Antrim into Leinster. I think what would help is an open draw at U21 level and allow them to play three games each in a group format. Everyone is saying the provinces don't work. If that's the case then have an open draw."
McEvoy also wants to see the retention of the Inter-Provincial series and is open to the possibility of the Ulster Senior Football Championship being played off in a shorter time-frame to create more weekends for clubs.
"The 2017 Ulster Senior Football Championship will be played over a shortened period with the preliminary round and the first quarter-final taking place over the weekend of May 20/21.
"This is a departure from a long standing tradition in the province and moving forward this is an area which I feel has potential for further streamlining and every week gained for club activity at this time of the year can only be beneficial for our clubs."
The Down native backed the creation of the Club Players Association [CPA], commenting: "The vast majority of players never progress to inter-county level and anything that can be done to better their cause should be welcomed.
"We await with interest further detail on the proposed workings of this organisation."
The new Ulster chief gave a guarded welcome to the GPA's government funding: "Recently they announced details of their latest grant scheme which they negotiated with the Irish Government. It provides a fair recompense to players who make many personal sacrifices to play at the top level...
"However it must always be remembered that the greatest strength of the Association is its amateur ethos... It is important therefore that there is no blurring of lines between ‘amateurism’ and ‘semi-professionalism’ or between what payments are classified as legitimate ‘allowances’ and those which are not.
"If we don’t maintain clear blue water between the two, there is the risk of diluting our core values with repercussions that could be potentially damaging."
Meanwhile, McEvoy was miffed by a BBC Spotlight programme on Casement Park and their "focussing negatively on obsolete matters relating to the previous project at a time when the new consultation process was about to begin in earnest..."
And referees that display on-field contempt for players was referenced by McEvoy.
He said: "It is unacceptable to verbally or physically abuse a referee and players and mentors, no matter how they feel about a decision, should always treat the referee like they would expect to be treated themselves.
"Equally, being a referee does not entitle one to a bagful of hubris and when dealing with players and officials they too should behave with courtesy, while not in any way compromising their authority."