JOHNNY MCINTOSH – Laying a foundation

DARREN Gleeson has done a good job in Antrim and never in a million years would I take that away from him.

We have lost all three league games so far, but with a -17 score difference we are but we haven’t been beat out the gate.

That is a bit of a positive, but the big question is going to be the Laois match, it is going to be the do or die game for Antrim.


I think our seniors have massively overachieved in the top league and we are quite lucky because we don’t really compete at any level at underage.

The minors are not getting the tests in Ulster they need. If history is anything to go by, all of a sudden, in the first round of the Leinster Championship, you lose heavily.

The year is over, we are back to stage one and that doesn’t sound like development in any way.

I took u-20 teams and in our first real test we were annihilated by Laois or lost by 30 points to Clare, thinking this is where we are.

Amazingly our senior team are able to beat Laois after losing two or three years in a row at underage. The chickens are going to come home to roost.

When they were minors, Neil McManus, Cormac Donnelly, Paul Shiels lost to a very strong Limerick team by the puck of ball. It was the same the following year against Galway.

We knew we had a good core under Dominic McKinley and ‘Sambo’ McNaughton and for a few years after it. That’s why we are now seeing a good Antrim senior team.

That has been sporadic underage progress rather than the regular conveyor belt needed to sustain ourselves in the top tier.

We are starting to struggle and we will struggle. McManus is in his mid-thirties. He could’ve been able to retire a couple of years ago but he is one of the best forwards in Antrim.

I don’t see rafts and rafts of young players coming through our u-17 or u-20 teams and exploding on the scene as a group of young boys we are going to build our next team around.

Look at Derry footballers and the progress they have made in the last few years, coming from a team that dropped the divisions to one that will definitely challenge for an All-Ireland.

They have always had the players, but Rory Gallagher has pulled everyone together.

Hurling is different. If Brian Cody took over Derry hurlers they wouldn’t be thinking of an All-Ireland in the same timeframe.

I don’t want to sound like the prophet of doom, but it comes back to that dirty word that many don’t want to hear – money.

If the GAA are serious about lifting the standards in the rest of the counties, there must be long-term planning in place.

It’s not just senior managers we need, but a Director of Hurling brought into counties to push it all on – someone dedicated to hurling.


There is a blueprint there. Look at how football can develop in Ulster and I think we need to put a huge emphasis on our school and university structure.

Picture the scene at St Kieran’s College in Kilkenny. If you drove past it, you’d see hundreds of lads going in each morning with their hurls, not just the days of games or training.

In Antrim, we need to follow what St Louis, Ballymena have done in catching up with the likes of Cross and Passion in Ballymena.

The school has a state of the art new floodlit training facility and that takes planning.

I know Conor Gillan and he is putting in a tremendous effort and they have current Antrim player Paul Boyle in helping them.

Imagine if someone like Conor was able to do the hurling all through the week without having to teach. Imagine if we could get that in all the other schools around the county and across Ulster, 10 or 12 of them, the standard would have to go up.

Cross and Passion were always pushing on with Joe Cassidy and Oran Kearney. Imagine if you gave these schools a Director of Hurling.

If we were to do something where I wanted to get results by the end of this decade, it would need to start now in the schools and universities.

Look at Dublin and the numbers they have involved and the difference it has made. It’s the same at university level. We need to have the hurling in a similar place as the football where players are competing in the Fitzgibbon Cup.

Imagine someone like Joe Canning had been talked into going to Queen’s and players from around the country wanting to play on the same team as him.The standard jumps 10 times.

Players would know they are going into a professionally and structured team where they are able to compete.

Schools are making a good fist of it, but more came be done and the same can be said for university level.

We must invest money into the future of hurling. There are six counties at the top level – Kilkenny, Limerick, Cork, Tipperary, Galway and Clare – with another six below that who class themselves as competitive but are not really in the conversation for the All-Ireland.

The GAA need to invest and especially in Ulster.

It would take money for a county to pencil in five challenge games with counties in the south, whereas in football there are teams on our doorstep we can go and play any night during the week. It is all a long-term project.

If, for example, £1 million became available for hurling development in Ulster it should be part funded. A school or a private backer puts in half for any initiative with the GAA matching it to get a dedicated Director of Hurling in who could also help with camogie.

Between that and something similar at university level, that would see the 17-21 year old gap bridged.

In schools, the appointed person would also drop into the feeder primary schools and the clubs of the area could also benefit in the long-term as well.

This is the sort of imprint money could make. In Antrim, whatever money is being pumped into Gaelfast, we need more – as many Directors of Hurling as possible.

For all the progress Darren Gleeson has made and those strong roots from the minor teams of 2005 and 2006, a long-term approach needs put in place to bring Antrim and Ulster hurling to somewhere it can have a realistic chance of growing from with the GAA needing to look at where hurling needs to go to.

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