GAA Football

Sigerson back door has to be questioned says St Mary's manager McGilly

Jarlath Óg Burns (right) played for Armagh during the McKenna Cup but returns to the St Mary's side for their clash with NUIG this afternoon.

Electric Ireland Sigerson Cup round one: NUI Galway v St Mary’s UC, Belfast (today, 2pm, Dangan)

THEY may be facing an NUI Galway side that will most likely boast an entire starting team of inter-county players, but St Mary’s manager Gavin McGilly says “you have to question” the introduction of a back door to the Sigerson Cup.

The Falls Road teacher training college were surprise champions two years ago, adding to their only previous title from 1989, and that journey began with a victory over the Galway side in Glenavy.

They went on to beat heavy-hitters UCC and UCD in thrill-a-minute games and McGilly feels that, on top of the added pressure placed on the players, the competition will lose something as a result of moving away from its traditional straight knockout format.

“Most GAA people enjoy the beauty of straight knockout championship football, you do it on the day or you don’t. St Mary’s are always able to rise to championship football.

“The year we did win the Sigerson, that was something that worked for us. You have to raise it because the stakes are at their highest, there’s no next opportunity.

”We do miss the all-or-nothing element to it. With the timing of it, it should be straight knockout. Look at the Tyrone and Derry [club] championships, the ones that are really competitive, it’s straight knockout and that’s the beauty of it.”

With a handful of inter-county players at his disposal, McGilly – who is also in Paddy Tally’s backroom team with Down – says their schedules for the next few weeks are “crazy”.

“From a player’s end of things, you’re having to try and manage their load from day-to-day over the next two or three weeks.

“You’ve the National League rocking in next Saturday night, there’s a round of Sigerson games next Wednesday and the following Wednesday. It’s a relentless schedule. In fairness to the lads, they all want to play.

“Last weekend, some Ulster counties were playing McKenna Cup semi-finals, other counties were playing challenge games.

“If any of the university players had picked up a knock in those games, which it’s highly likely that someone will, they’re going to be ruled out of Sigerson.

“Same goes if anything happens them over the next seven days, you’ll definitely not have them next Wednesday or the following week.

“Counties want them for the first round of the National League. You have to question the idea of the back door.”

St Mary’s achieved a very respectable draw with Monaghan during the McKenna Cup group stage, having been hammered by Armagh in their opening game.

Barring Jarlath Óg Burns and Liam Rafferty, who were for the most part with Armagh and Tyrone respectively, St Mary’s had the majority of their squad for the three games, which rounded out with a loss to Antrim.

Their first collective training session as a whole squad only took place on Monday night, before which they travelled down yesterday to stay in Salthill before moving inland to Dangan for the game early this afternoon.

They will be without pivotal midfield options Oisin O’Neill and Con Kilpatrick, both of whom are out with ankle injuries. O’Neill is out for the duration of the competition, but they are perennial underdogs regardless of their resources.

Yet thanks to their remarkable journey two years ago, there is much less of a body of work to convince those passing through that nothing is beyond them.

“If you ever need evidence that you can do something, the proof is if you’ve done it before,” says McGilly.

“It can be done. It’s a game of football, 60 minutes. It’s what you’re prepared to give within those 60 minutes. You just go for it. It’s proper championship football in January time.

“The characters we have in St Mary’s seem to rise to that every year. We look for pure honesty and effort when they put on a St Mary’s jersey, and that will take you a long way in a lot of games. You just hope you get the rub of the green to get you through the next day.”

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