By Shaun Casey
THE Ulster Championship is the only provincial competition that “isn’t broken” says Antrim boss Andy McEntee, who’ll get his first taste of it this Saturday as his side take on Armagh.
The former Meath boss guided the Royals to back-to-back Leinster finals during his tenure, in 2019 and 2020, but lost out to kingpins Dublin on both occasions. While McEntee believes “the provincial system just doesn’t make sense,” he admits he’s full of “admiration” for the Ulster Championship.
“It’s admiration as much as anything else,” said McEntee in his first years as Saffron boss.” The truth of the matter is, I’ve probably made no secret of the fact that I think the provincial system just doesn’t make sense.
“But at the same time, I understand why Ulster doesn’t want to chance it because it’s the one province that isn’t broken. You look at some of the Ulster Championship games over the years and they’ve been fantastic.
“There’s great rivalry there and there’s a spread of team that can win it, Monaghan, Derry, Cavan, Donegal, Tyrone, Armagh, over the years. Fermanagh had a really good run too a number of years ago, so you’d have to look at the Ulster Championship and say it’s the one province that is broken.
“Unfortunately, I think the rest of them are. Even the numbers thing, if you took someone from outer space and tried to explain how this thing works with 32 counties, they’d look at you and say, really?
“And you see now what has happened with the draw in Connacht, it doesn’t make sense. You’re going to get a Division Four team, no disrespect to anybody, playing in the championship at the expense of a Division One team, it doesn’t make sense.”
McEntee is wary that his side face a wounded animal in Armagh, off the back of their relegation to Division One. Antrim had a decent league campaign, picking up wins over Tipperary and Cavan to fend off the fears of relegation, but know they’re in for a “huge challenge” come Saturday.
“You’re after poking the bear a bit,” said McEntee of Armagh’s relegation. “You’re playing Armagh, you saw where they got to last year, within a penalty shootout of progressing even further. That’s the magnitude of the challenge that we face. Division One or Division Two, it’s still a huge challenge.”