JOHNNY McINTOSH: The big decision

ANTRIM did well to beat Carlow and secure their Leinster Championship status but my concern is that it’s essentially a non-developmental championship.

Neil McManus expressed misgivings about it last weekend and I couldn’t agree with him more. It’s a bit of a farce because it’s a yo-yo situation and will never change until Wexford or Galway get into a rut and get relegated. There’s an attitude of ‘it’s only Antrim or Carlow so who cares if they slip down, that’s probably where they deserve to be.’

Every single year, the same teams come up from Joe McDonagh, Offaly or Laois, and next year it’ll be the exact same narrative – it’ll either be Antrim and Laois or Offaly playing in a de facto play-off to see who gets relegated out of Leinster.

There’s no sense of development and the GAA need to grow the competition. There’s presently six teams in the competition and would it do any harm to include another two teams and slightly rejigging the format?

I know it’ll never be the same intensity or level of the Munster Championship, but if the likes of Laois and Offaly were to come up and it was split into two groups of four, it has the potential to give the championship a bit of breathing space.

At the minute it’s a poor enough competition, a bit of a damp squib. Yes, it’s positive that Antrim stayed up but they’re relying on picking up a win or two at home and the worry is that next year they could end up away to the likes of Wexford or Laois.

But I suppose that’s further down the line and the more pressing question is whether Darren Gleeson will be back on board in 2025. This was his fifth full season in charge and he’s done an incredible job. My personal hunch is that he’ll go.

I think if he does stay on, he’ll probably shake up his backroom and that’s no slur on who’s presently involved. Brian Cody was in charge of Kilkenny for donkeys but I think what people maybe didn’t notice is that he constantly had new people in the backroom.

The work Darren has done is remarkable and he’s taken Antrim on to a higher plane, and I think it’s crucial that we have a figure like Darren involved in a capacity where he’d be overseeing hurling development throughout the county, not just at that top senior intercounty level.

If Antrim senior hurling is such a level that our development squads can’t keep up, the only way to fix that is by improving the underage structure. At the moment we’re doing things the wrong way round.

It’s a difficult one and we’re trying to balance expectations and what players can and can’t do, and it can be difficult as they aren’t winning titles. But again, I don’t think Darren will stay on as manager and I think it’ll be a big problem for Antrim to replace him.

Personally, if I’d my way, they’d try to get him to stay on in some capacity, as a high performance director type figure. They could promote Johnny Campbell, one of his backroom team, a brilliant coach and a brilliant fella whom I hurled alongside for years. Why not let Johnny take the reins and as opposed to just chucking him into the lions’ den, you could let Gleeson sit in a consultancy role where he could help give him advice as well as doing other things.

I do think Antrim hurling at senior level needs freshened up but it needs to be a properly managed change and you can see the quality Darren has brought. I would now like a relatively young Antrim manager – someone like Johnny Campbell, who has been second-in-command essentially for four or five years – coming in to manage the team but with Gleeson still on board to help ease the process

The final thing I would like to say this week is the best of luck to all the Ulster teams involved in national finals this weekend. Derry, Donegal and Fermanagh all have big games at Croke Park and it would be great to see at least one or two of those teams bringing back the silver.

Photo caption

Receive quality journalism wherever you are, on any device. Keep up to date from the comfort of your own home with a digital subscription.
Any time | Any place | Anywhere


Gaelic Life is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
Registered in Northern Ireland, No. R0000576. 10-14 John Street, Omagh, Co. Tyrone, N. Ireland, BT781DW