Our season could be over in three weeks, warns McNaughton
Forget the worth of the Ulster Championship, says Antrim joint-manager Terence 'Sambo' McNaughton, and consider instead what kind of a season the average county hurler has.
"The bigger thing is, our whole hurling could be over in three or four weeks," says the former All-Star.
"The reality is that we wouldn't play another competitive game for another nine-and-a-half months. Like, we won't even get to train on decent, dry sod. We would only get three or four sessions in daylight. We don't get to train as a county team into May, June, July and August."
challenge He spells out the reality of inter-county hurling away from the top rung, explaining: "Before the start of the National League, you might have a couple of challenge matches and you have the Walsh Cup or something in January. But the reality is that the league won't start again until the middle of February next year.
"That means we play Carlow next week. If we were to be beat there and in our next game, that's our season over. That means in a fortnight we could be finished, and that would apply for all Ulster teams.
"Nobody would ever highlight that. You lift the papers and there is no talk about it. It's always about the top ten, 12 teams. They don't realise that for the people involved in Ulster hurling, we are going to have football rammed down our throat for the next three months. There won't be a word of hurling mentioned."
In all the navel-gazing that has questioned the worth of an Ulster Championship sandwiched between the Allianz Leagues campaign and the Ring, Rackard and Meagher Cups, McNaughton raises a salient point that few have considered. As for the timing of the competition, he feels it is in the only sensible place it can be on the calendar.
"I think it's not ideal, but it needs to be where it's at between the league and the Christy Ring, I feel.
"Teams are still together. Other teams are involved in the Nicky Rackard and that. Everybody is still focused on games ahead and we have full panels," he states.
Looking ahead to tomorrow's Ulster final in Owenbeg, McNaughton has intimate knowledge of opponents Armagh - not only from their recent seven-point league victory in the Athletic Grounds - but from taking a few coaching sessions with Middletown during their run to the 2012 All-Ireland Intermediate club final.
"I admire and feel for them. Although it's hard in Antrim, it's twice as hard in Armagh and Tyrone and these places. Anyone who is putting his head above the parapet in these counties to promote hurling I have nothing but the height of respect for them," he states.
Respect "I have the utmost of respect for Armagh and what they have done. They have become genuine competitors. I would say we were lucky to get out of Armagh with points that day. Only we brought on a couple of subs that did the business for us, we were in trouble, and that's genuine."
With the bookmakers not offering odds on the outcome of the final, McNaughton needs to guard against complacency, but he sounds as if he has that all boxed off.
"We will give them all the respect they deserve. Armagh have some great hurlers, some of them are every bit as good as what we have in Antrim," he concluded.