Ulster schools set to field combined team
ULSTER are going to field a 'combined' hurling team in this year's All-Ireland Colleges (second-level) championship.
Like all the other provinces, Ulster were traditionally represented in the premier division of All-Ireland schools (Dr Croke Cup) by the winner of their own 'A' championship.
However, after struggling to be competitive, their winners had dropped down to competing in the All-Ireland 'B' competition in recent years.
But a new initiative to make them competitive at 'A' level is now being introduced and the inaugural team will be managed by Sean McGourty of St Gall's.
A similar 'combined team' initiative is credited with helping to make Dublin's hurlers competitive in the last decade.
Dublin schools were struggling against the best from counties like Kilkenny and Wexford until they introduced an amalgamated schools team 20 years ago, which helped turn around their fortunes.
A Dublin combined team has won Leinster three times since 2001 and went all the way to All-Ireland glory in 2006.
The county now fields two teams in Leinster Schools 'A' hurling championship, Dublin North and Dublin South.
Combined schools teams have also become a regular feature in Munster and there is a West Limerick representative team competing in this year's Harty Cup. But this is the first time that a province has entered an amalgamated team at this level.
Before Christmas, the Gaelic Players' Association (GPA) suggested that Ulster should enter a combined team in the All-Ireland senior championship to give Ulster hurlers the best chance to be competitive.
But that suggestion was quickly shot down by several counties in the province.