Though Antrim were knocked out of the provincial competition after one game last season, Galway’s thrilling semi-final against Kilkenny was enough to win most people over to the newly-expanded format.
Almost 80% of delegates at Special Congress in 2008 had voted in favour of the two counties being assimilated into the provincial competition on a temporary basis.
However, the welcome was not universal. Delegates from Dublin, Wexford and Offaly all spoke against the changes two years ago and a vote on the matter in Galway resulted in just 66 in favour against 54 opposed.
While Antrim are expected to struggle this summer, Galway are on the opposite side of the draw to Kilkenny and it will be a shock if the pair do not meet in the final on July 7.
“I thought the game between Galway and Kilkenny last year was a tremendous game and it added enormously to the Leinster Championship,” said Cooney. “It had a greater balance to it and it had great games.
“I think it is there to stay. That is my personal view. It brings a better balance to the hurling championship and it is better for Galway and Antrim as it will show whether they are really improving or not.
“Having won the Walsh Cup and the league already this year, there is now a massive incentive for Galway to go on and win the Leinster and it is really going to test them. It brings great competition to them.”
Galway and Antrim’s absorption into Leinster came with the condition that both counties relinquish home advantage proving Leinster wasn’t ready to consider the prospect of games being held in another province but such a situation can hardly last in perpetuity and Cooney accepted that it would need to be addressed.
The notion of an open draw has been doing the rounds once again in recent weeks but Cooney supports Ulster secretary Danny Murphy’s assertion that the provincial championships are here to stay.
“There is no issue, irrespective of what I read or hear, from anyone to suggest that the provincial structure should go. Absolutely not. There is nobody putting motions on the clár for change. There is no desire for it.
“I would be of the same view as Páraic (Duffy) in that I don’t see anything that would be better than it. When somebody comes forward with a competition that has a better structure we will have a look at it.”
Whatever that may be, Cooney doesn’t believe it will be anything resembling an open draw and he echoed Murphy’s thoughts when alluding to the importance that local rivalries hold for players and supporters alike.
“I don’t believe it would work and people talk about home and away. God almighty, you saw how many Cork fans travelled up for a National League final. How many will go to Donegal if they draw Donegal in an away game?”
The answer, of course, would be very few but the president is confident that enough fans would be willing to travel from Ulster to see their provincial decider played in Croke Park this summer, as has been mooted.
The Dublin venue is free on the date in question, July 18, and Cooney would have no truck with the game returning to HQ.
“Playing in provincial grounds when they are full is fine but if there is an anticipated attendance of 50 to 60,000 you should play it in a venue that is capable of holding that.”