Ronan Sheehan labels Ulster U21 hurling scene a farce
DOWN U17 hurling manager Ronan Sheehan has labelled the Ulster U21 Championship a “farce” and compared the competition to “a pub league”.
The Cork native, who leads the Mourne County into the Division Three final of the Celtic Challenge (the GAA’s national U17 hurling development competition) against Dublin ‘Plunkett’ this weekend, bemoaned the lack of effort going into the U21 grade in the northern province.
He has backed plans for a Celtic Challenge competition at U20 level which have been drawn up by Hurling Development chairman Paudie O'Neill.
"Hopefully Paudie's idea for a similar concept at U20 comes to fruition," Sheehan said.
"It would stop the farce of the Ulster U21 championship which is effectively akin to a pub league with no real effort being put into it. The prize is the chance to be humiliated in the semi-final by the likes of a Tipp or Galway.
"For us in Down, an U20 competition is absolutely vital if we are to build on the success of the Celtic Challenge as it is generally that 17-20 period where we lose a lot of our non-Ards players from our county squads.
“We have no real bridge between minor and senior, so U20 would be ideal."
The Down youngsters have blossomed under Sheehan this year. Challenge games with Westmeath and ‘Dublin Plunkett’ helped pave the way for a memorable win over a Cork City side and Sheehan has used connections in the Rebel county to entice former Allstar full-back Diarmuid O'Sullivan and Donal Og Cusack to take training sessions with the players.
"We have over half our team this weekend from outside the traditional Ards power base in Down and the player pathway seeks to build on that work," Sheehan explained.
“The goal is now to bring some of these lads through to senior inter-county hurling.
"I think the whole concept of this competition has been great from the number of games right through to the mix of teams you get to play and the excellent media/social media campaigns.”
Down may have made the most eye-catching progress, but five Ulster counties sides feature in the six divisional finals in this year's Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge.
The competition includes sides from throughout the country and this year’s finals are being played at Carlow’s Netwatch Dr Cullen Park.
Down take on Dublin in the Division Three Corn William Robinson final at 2.20pm and afterwards Antrim meet North Cork in the Corn John Scott decider at 4pm.
The Division 5 Corn Michael Feery final pits Armagh against Roscommon at 12.40pm while the Division 6 Corn Tom Hogan final takes place at Garvaghey between Tyrone and Fermanagh at 12pm.
Sheehan works at grassroots level to promote hurling throughout Ulster and is well aware of the challenges facing the game.
But having helped to bring through impressive young Down players like Eoin Coulter, Donal og Rooney, Daithi Sands and the talented McCrickards, Conor and Ruairi, he is still hopeful that the development work will pay dividends in the Mourne county.
He feels that Ulster teams have embraced the Celtic Challenge because: "It's really all about regular games”, adding: “With this competition we have got seven games thus far plus two challenge games which is fantastic for our lads’ development.
"The concept of dividing the strong counties into two and three teams makes the possibility of a team like Down getting a victory over a Cork side a possibility.
"The impact of that shouldn't be underestimated."