A number of Ulster hurling figures have come out in favour of a combined side representing the province in the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship.

Speaking to RTÉ Sport last Friday, Down manager Ronan Sheehan suggested that an amalgamated side could help to develop the small-ball code in northern counties, who have struggled to compete at the top level, in contrast to their football sides.

Some players and managers in Ulster think that a combined side could contend for Liam MacCarthy.

"Team Ulster would have a very good chance, I believe," Slaughtneil manager Mickey McShane told Jerome Quinn.

"You pick the best eight players out of Antrim, the best eight players out of Derry, Down and players from Donegal, Tyrone, Armagh and maybe other counties, you're going to have a very strong panel."

Tyrone manager Mattie Lennon concurs, saying that hurling in Ulster is "standing still" at the moment. 

"If we had a Team Ulster and were in the Leinster championship, and we had Wexford coming to the Athletic Grounds, Páirc Esler or Clones, with 16 or 17 thousand people there, that would do wonders for the game.

"It would give younger people an incentive to push on and get on that squad.

"We have to do something. We're standing still over the last number of years."

Donegal forward Declan Coulter adds: "If you take the best 30, 40 hurlers in Ulster, could we compete? Absolutely, if the right structures are in place and you have enough time to come together as a team to get to know each other and get systems of play in place."

Antrim are the only Ulster side to have reached an All-Ireland hurling final (1943 and '89) but after joining the Leinster championship in 2009 the Saffrons were relegated in 2015 and have since been competing in the Christy Ring/Joe McDonagh Cup tiers.

They were top of Division 2A when the Allianz Hurling League was suspended due to the coronavirus in March.

Derry and Down have also won Ulster titles in the last 30 years but the province's SHC hasn't been contested since Antrim won their 16th consecutive title in 2017.

Sheehan accepted that convincing Antrim to join a provincial team could prove difficult but former Saffrons star Eddie McCloskey believes even a side without Ulster's traditional powerhouse could be competitive.

"Obviously, with Antrim they would be a much stronger team but  you have your strong players from all the counties," he said. "With those players they have the potential to be competitive at that level.

Cathal Carvill, who was captain of Armagh when they reached Division 2A in 2016, agrees.

"I marked out a team without Antrim players and that is a team I know I would certainly enjoy playing in and would put it up to any team in the country," he said.

"People might say that’s madness but there is the quality there in each of the individual counties without Antrim to be very very competitive. To my mind, I think that 15 and the current Antrim 15, there would only be one winner."

"If you were doing it properly, two-thirds of the team would probably be from Antrim," admits Slaughtneil and Derry star Chrissy McKaigue, who has won three Ulster club titles in the last four years.

"I think you don't want to go away from putting the best players on the starting 15, irrespective of what county they're from.

"Your job in this initiative is to gather up the best hurlers in Ulster, irrespective of what county they're from, and form the best 25 to 30 players in the province. Have a  crack at at Liam McCarthy, put the correct resources into it, get the right management team in place and see where it takes us.

"At this stage it's worth a gamble because things can't really get any worse."