Clubs will fold unless Ulster's five-year rule is changed, warns Cloughmills boss Geoffrey Laverty
THE manager of the reigning Ulster Club intermediate hurling champions has called for an end to the five-year rule that has left his club stuck in “no man’s land”.
Cloughmills conquered Ulster for just the first time last year, a glorious time in the north Antrim club’s history. But, less than 12 months on, they are victims of that success, according to Geoffrey Laverty.
The St Brigid’s made the step up to senior level this year, but the gulf in class was cruelly showcased as they lost by 33 points to Cushendall in the opening round of the Antrim championship.
And while Cloughmills can return to the intermediate grade at county level, an Ulster Council rule prevents them – as 2016 winners – from competing in the Ulster intermediate championship until 2022.
Laverty intends raising the matter with the Antrim County Board - in the hope that it can be taken to the provincial body - as the continuation of the rule, he feels, could lead clubs like Cloughmills to “fold”.
“When a small club at either junior or intermediate level wins an Ulster title, they are a complete victim of their own success,” he said.
“Cloughmills is probably one of the smallest clubs in Ulster, and what we’ve achieved is great – but we have no minor team, no U16 team, no U14 team. Our young fellas around the age of 10 would play with Naomh Padraig, a combination of Armoy, Cushendun and Carey Faugh’s.
“We didn’t mind going up to senior for one year to do the decent thing, but we were beaten in every game. It was a step too far.
“I’m telling guys of 29 and 30, guys in their prime, that even if we did win the Antrim intermediate title again – which would be very hard – that we can’t go into the Ulster or All-Ireland Championships, so they’re wondering ‘what is our goal here?’
“This doesn’t happen in Leinster, Connacht or anywhere else, only in Ulster. We’re stuck in no man’s land. It’s madness – a broken system.
“And the bottom line is that, if it carries on, we will fold.”
Laverty was keen to stress that this was not an issue that affects his club alone, far from it, pointing to Lisbellaw as a case in point.
The Fermanagh club defeated Cloughmills in the 2012 Ulster intermediate final and have struggled to make an impact in the senior provincial championship.
“Since beating us Lisbellaw have had to play the Portaferrys, Ballygalgets, Cushendalls for the last five years – totally ridiculous. It’s hurt them so badly, and it has to stop,” continued Laverty.
“Ahoghill won the Ulster intermediate in 2013 – they have one more year left and it’s killing them. They are now relegated to the third division in Antrim. Creggan won a junior All-Ireland, an Ulster intermediate, and the same rule applies to them. They’re now sitting in the third division.
“There are no goals for players. It’s all wrong and it has to be changed. People need to use common sense because it’s killing small hurling clubs.”
A spokesman for the Ulster Council said the issue could be raised at any meeting of their Competitions Control Committee if brought forward from a county board.
“It’s always up for discussion at Ulster Council level, and it’s probably only a matter of time until some of the counties take it back and it is talked about again,” he said.