THE Ulster Hurling Championship should be reinstated according to Antrim captain Conor McCann and county chairman Ciarán McCavana.
The provincial Championship was discontinued for a three-year period from 2018 with Ulster GAA secretary Brian McAvoy citing poor attendances as the main reason at the time with the competition struggling for prominence when sandwiched between the leagues and the various hurling Championships in the summer.
“While the Ulster Hurling Championships have a special place in all of our hearts the decision was taken in the best interests of hurling in Ulster,” stated McAvoy in his address to the 2018 Ulster Convention.
“In 2017 the Ulster Senior Hurling Championship was moved to an April slot at the behest of the counties but it failed to capture the imagination of either the players or the public, with a combined attendance of just around 1,000 people at its three games.”
However, McCann feels that there would be sufficient interest in the provincial Championship provided there was a reward for the victors.
Antrim won a sixteenth consecutive Ulster title back in 2017, but the winners of the Liam Harvey Cup no longer gain a place in the latter stages of the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
McCann feels rewarding the Ulster championship with a pathway to the All-Ireland series would reinvigorate the competition.
“I’d be very keen to get the Ulster Hurling Championship back,” said McCann.
“When you were growing up, you used to love going to watch the finals at Casement Park. There were great days out.
“Antrim were coming up against great Derry and Down teams in the early 2000s. The competition was fierce and you weren’t sure who was going to win on any given day.
“I think the next step has to be to bring back the Ulster Championship, but there are other things to consider too.
“There is no incentive for a team to win the Ulster Championship. The Ulster champions used to go through to the All-Ireland semi-finals and quarter-finals and there was a massive reward.
“Since they’ve taken that away, it hasn’t been the same.
“If they brought back some reward, perhaps a place in the Qualifiers, they’re would be a better buy-in some counties.”
McCann captained Antrim to Ulster glory at U21 level back in 2013 – the same year which saw the Saffrons reach the All-Ireland final following a famous semi-final victory over Wexford.
The Creggan ace has been a constant presence in the senior team for the best part of a decade, but added that very few of the current squad would have played in a senior Ulster Hurling Championship game.
“There are very few of our current squad who have actually played in an Ulster Championship game, such is the age of the squad,” added McCann.
“You have the likes of myself, Neil (McMaus), Matty Donnelly and maybe a handful of others, but not that many.
“I think there needs to be a real re-think from the Ulster Council. I think the Conor McGurk Cup has been a great competition for the last few years in pre-season and it has been really well run by Queen’s.
“It would be great to play a proper Championship game against Ulster sides in summer conditions with big crowds and young teams playing at half-time and the likes. That has to be the next progression from the Ulster Council.”
Antrim GAA chairman Ciarán McCavana has already called for the Ulster Championship to be brought back in his address to last year’s Ulster Convention and he has urged the Ulster Council to do more in terms of promoting hurling across the province.
“I think Ulster GAA needs to invest in hurling generally and I have already called for the Ulster Championship to be brought back,” said McCavana.
“Perhaps they could run it as a pre-season competition in conjunction with the McGurk Cup. I know there are issues surrounding the timing of the competition, but I feel it is a conversation worth having.
“The Ulster Championship was only meant to be suspended for three years and the three years is up.”