Talks have once again intensified around the possible formation of an Ulster hurling team fit to compete for an All-Ireland senior title.
At present, no Ulster counties compete for the Liam MacCarthy cup with Antrim having been relegated from the Leinster hurling championship in 2015.
For years, concerns have been expressed around the sport’s lack of growth in certain parts of the northern province with one strategy discussed being the possibility of an all-Ulster amalgamation. The issue reared its head last week when Down hurling boss Ronan Sheehan told Damian Lawlor of his desire to see a blueprint drafted for a potential Ulster team.
Following this, Jerome Quinn also spoke to Sheehan, as well as a number of Ulster hurling personalities, many of whom expressed excitement at the prospect of an Ulster team competing in the All-Ireland senior hurling championship.
Best thing to hit hurling in decades? Team Ulster is an exciting idea & ELEVEN top players and managers have talked to me in support of it. The full video is here https://t.co/6DDtlo6Ytz pic.twitter.com/HR7oKKinZE
— Jerome Quinn (@JeromeQuinn) May 31, 2020
One of those high profile figures who has thrown his weight behind the possible team is Derry dual star, Chrissy McKaigue.
The Slaughtneil star believes now is the time to have a proper conversation around the issue.
“At this stage, it’s not about forcing your opinion on people,” McKaigue told RTE Sport.
“It’s very much about having a proper conversation. Even if you look at social media there are different perspectives. There are people for and against it.
“The conversation has come out before over the past decade, but I still don’t feel the matter has been debated properly. We have received no real clarity around whether this is worth a try or not.
“At least if people say it’s not worth a try, let a conversation have been had and a proper examination taken place. Let it be looked at logically, let it be discussed properly, let’s look at the bits and pieces that will be needed to promote hurling in this form in Ulster.
“I have to say that a tiered championship, in my opinion, does little for hurling and it does little for football in terms of helping bridge the gap between the emerging counties and the elite.
“With regard to Team Ulster, I would just love to see a proper conversation now take place with the relevant parties.”
McKaigue stressed that the idea wouldn’t work unless the best players in the province were made available including those from Antrim.
However, Antrim star Neil McManus has poured some cold water over the idea claiming the idea will not be entertained inside the Saffron county.
“I love playing for Antrim,” McManus told The Irish News.
“I absolutely love representing Antrim and Cushendall because they’re part of me. You’re born and bred in your village, your club is everything to you. From a very young age, my father was taking me to Casement Park to watch Antrim and that became an aspiration. It’s not going to be entertained in Antrim, let’s be honest.”
McManus, who has represented Ulster in the inter-provincial series, also expressed concerns that an Ulster team could damage potentially damage the game’s development within the province.
“Does hurling stop for those counties then? Some of those counties are operating with very small panels. It could demotivate so many people and it could almost be a wee bit selfish.
“I really think you’d be doing an awful disservice to every county if Team Ulster had sole access to those players.”
Arguably the two most high profile hurlers in the province, the fact that they fall on differing sides of the debate is already a blow for Ulster hurling fans who wish to see the province united.