Ulster University missing star names against Monaghan
ULSTER University will be missing a raft of household names in their opening McKenna Cup match against Monaghan at Clones on Sunday, says manager Barney McAleenan.
McAleenan’s task of toppling the reigning provincial champions on their home patch has been made even tougher with the injury-enforced absences of intercounty stars Kieran Hughes (Monaghan), Paddy McBrearty (Donegal), Ronan McNamee (Tyrone) and Cailean O’Boyle (Derry).
However, the Down native is confident that they will recover in time for their Sigerson Cup opener against Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) or Garda College, who Ulster University defeated in their last Sigerson Cup final triumph in 2008.
His injury-hampered side's first mission, however, is to hold their own against the Farney men on Sunday:
“There’s absolutely no doubt that Monaghan are a big challenge, they’re a very experienced side so it’s a great challenge for us and hopefully it’ll help the development of my team," McAleenan said.
He added: “We’re hoping that some of them [his missing players] will be back at least for some of the McKenna Cup matches. Three McKenna cup matches come in 10 days [UU also take on Armagh and Cavan in Section C] and we’re hoping that they’re all available for some of the matches and that’d be great to develop the team.”
McAleenan can be especially thankful that the issue of player availability that has dogged the McKenna Cup since the addition of the third-level colleges appears to have been resolved – and Ulster Council president Martin McAviney has offered to mediate in any disputes that arise over the universities’ access to county players.
“We’ve appreciated the efforts of Martin McAviney and the county managers to reach a sensible resolution. The games in the McKenna Cup are great preparation for the match against CIT or Garda College. I suppose the McKenna cup allows us to get a settled team and allow us to try different permutations.”
Ulster University bowed out at the first attempt in last season’s Sigerson Cup to eventual winners DCU, and McAleenan is wary of getting dragged into a conversation about an impressive UCD side that overcame their Dublin rivals in the Ryan Cup final in November by 2-18 to 0-12.
“UCD beat us well in the semi-final of that competition and won the final quite easily as well. They’re an outstanding team that have been building over the last few years.
“[But] all we’re worried about at the minute is our first match against CIT who are a traditional university or the Garda College who have a proven pedigree as well and won the Trench Cup easily last year.
UU host this year’s Sigerson competition, which gets underway on January 26. McAleenan’s star-studded outfit are pre-tournament favourites and playing on home soil has proven an advantage since the turn of the millennium – Sligo IT and CIT won as hosts in 2002 and 2009 respectively, and it’s also noteworthy that UU clinched the title in Scotstown in 2001 while DCU did likewise in Parnell Park in 2006.
McAleenan commented: “It’s special having the competition up in Jordanstown and Tommy Joe Farrell and Paul Rouse and the rest of boys have made a great effort in preparation.”