Hurling and camogie

Controversial Ulster club hurling rule cut again - this time from three years to two

Cloughmills won the Ulster Club Intermediate Hurling Championship in 2016, and can now enter again in 2019 if they come out on top in Antrim. Picture by Philip Walsh

THE controversial rule which prevented the winners of Ulster’s junior and intermediate club hurling championships from competing at that grade for five years has been changed for the second time in a matter of months.

Following public pressure from several clubs and county boards, it was agreed last October to reduce the term to three years.

However they still felt that didn’t go far enough and, following a meeting of the Ulster Council recently, it was agreed to reduce the gap further, from three years to two.

This means that clubs like Creggan, who won the Ulster intermediate championship in 2015, and Eoghan Rua, Coleraine - who won the junior club hurling championship in the same year - can compete in those competitions again this year.

Cloughmills manager Geoffrey Laverty had previously expressed concern that the five-year rule could eventually lead to the club’s collapse, saying at the time: “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?”

But now the 2016 champions can return to the Ulster intermediate championship in 2019 instead of 2022, while the Antrim County Board has allowed them to play at intermediate level this year, with their league campaign set to get under way on Easter Sunday.

“We’re looking forward to it – last year, of all the years, we had a lot of injuries,” said Laverty.

“Division Two in Antrim is a great league, there’s nothing between the teams. It’s all very even.

“Last year was very tough at times. It’s demoralising getting well beat by the bigger clubs week in, week out. Don’t get me wrong, it was nice in a way for Cloughmills to get their year in the first division, but the big clubs are just too strong.

“They’ve big, strong panels, they’ve all these fast forwards, where Cloughmills is a wee intermediate club. It’s actually good to get that year past us because there’s a big gap.

“The likes of Cushendall, Dunloy, Loughgiel, they’re nearly super-clubs. They have no problem with numbers, some of them could field three teams, whereas the smaller clubs are struggling more and more, numbers are going down all the time.

“That seems to be the pattern. 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.”

Laverty has made no secret of his belief that the step up should only last one year, but welcomed the Ulster Council’s decision to reduce the term to two.

He added: “All in all, from five years – which was ridiculous – to two is very good, although I still believe, for small clubs, one year of playing at the higher level is plenty.

“We’re an intermediate club and, as it stands, we can’t go any further.”

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