JORDANSTOWN manager Adrian McGuckin believes that Derry newcomer Chrissy McKaigue has already emerged as one of the main players in his Sigerson Cup squad.
An AFL recruit with the Sydney Swans, McKaigue joined the Aussie Rules club after he had started a law degree at Queen's University. Since returning home, the Slaughtneil clubman has started a new course at UUJ.
"He is a great character to have about the place. Chrissy in only at the university this year, but he has established himself as a leader," said McGuckin.
The UUJ manager had an opportunity to assess McKaigue's abilities during a three-day training camp in Portugal.
"Like I say, this is Chrissy's first year, but on the Portugal trip, he was the man who was driving them on."
McGuckin revealed that his players enjoyed unseasonably warm weather during their pre-Christmas trip.
"It was class," he said. "We were expecting the temperature to be around 10 or 11 degrees. But it was in the low 20s everyday. It was beautiful."
The Jordanstown players funded the trip themselves. Although McGuckin mooted the idea for the trip, he revealed that it was the players who seized the initiative.
"You can get nothing done around universities now during the month of October and November.
"Let's be honest, eight months of the year is now given over almost totally to county teams. Everything else is congested into September, October and November.
"Due to club commitments, players have no time for their universities. We got no training done whatsoever before Christmas so I just threw out the idea of the trip as a possibility. I asked them could it happen. The players made it happen."
Unlike county squads who usually book into four-star resorts, McGuckin revealed that his squad's accommodation had more in common with an army barracks.
"It was more like a boot camp," he said. "We stayed in very basic apartments. We used a 4G soccer pitch and we used the beach. It wasn't one of those big sports centres. But a pitch and a beach is all you need."
Despite the budget lodgings, McGuckin said the trip was still a fantastic experience.
"Most of the time we worked on skills and gameplans. It was good for doing the wee things which you just don't have time to do during a normal session. That is the real benefit of it."
While an alcohol ban was imposed until the last night, McGuckin said there was no shortage of laughter.
"It is wonderful the craic that fellas can still have when no drink is involved," he said.
Although delighted with the camaraderie that was developed among his players, McGuckin is aware that a good spirit will only bring a team so far. And as Jordanstown prepare to taken on Antrim in the McKenna Cup on Sunday, the Ballinderry man said he wouldn't be placing any huge expectations on his players.
"We played Antrim in a challenge game recently. They weren't anywhere near their full strength, but they still beat us.
"The average age of our panel is 20 years and five months. We should really be competing at U21 level.
"We expect to lose six players to county teams, and obviously they would be six of our top players. On top of that, we have another eight injuries. That situation just isn't the best for going into the Dr McKenna Cup."
In the absence of the players who have been called into county squad, Jordanstown will be relying on the McKaigue brothers, Chrissy and Karl, Gerard McCartan (Burren), Emmet McGuckin (Magherafelt and Derry), Aaron Devlin (Ballinderry) and Paul Devlin (Kilcoo and Down). ■ WELL-TRAVELLED: Chrissy McKaigue has emerged as one of the key players in UUJ's squad