GAA Football

Return of Tyrone seven and David Clifford injury means Ulster University start as favourites in Sigerson Cup opener against IT Tralee

Lee Brennan is one of seven Tyrone county players on the star-studded Ulster University side. Picture Seamus Loughran.
Andy Watters

Sigerson Cup round one: IT Tralee v Ulster University (tomorrow, John Mitchel’s Tralee, 1pm)

BOLSTERED by the availability of their seven Tyrone players and the unavailability of David Clifford to their opponents, Ulster University hit the road for Kerry this afternoon primed for a winnable battle against IT Tralee tomorrow.

Red Hand stars Lee Brennan, Michael McKernan, midfielders Ben McDonnell and Brian Kennedy, goalkeeper Benny Gallen, forwards Lee Brennan and David Mulgrew and versatile Frank Burns slot in alongside the likes of Derry’s Karl McKaigue, Donegal’s Ulster Championship winners Ryan McHugh Eoghan Ban Gallagher and Mayo’s Paddy Durkan.

Jordanstown’s wait for a sixth Sigerson triumph stretches back to 2008 and since that win over Garda College, ‘the Poly’ have lost two finals (2011 and 2014) and were beaten by eventual champions UCD after extra-time at the semi-final stage last year.

Manager Paul Rouse knows all the stats only too well and near-misses don’t make the 11-year drought any easier for him to take. His star-studded side are the pre-competition favourites but there are banana skins everywhere again this year.

“I know we’ve been in a couple of finals but we haven’t won it for 11 years,” said the Tyrone native.

“St Mary’s had a terrific win a couple of years ago and they were terrific throughout the tournament but you’re always looking at UCC, DCU and UCD as the dominant teams.

“Tralee are up there as well, they have players on the Kerry senior panel in their ranks and five or six back-to-back All-Ireland minor winners who haven’t quite made the step up to senior level with Kerry yet.

“So we’re going down to take on a team that is experienced in winning. They came up to the Dub last year and beat Queen’s and they’ve added to that squad. A lot of people think it’ll be a straightforward assignment but it could be a very tricky one.

“If you have Kerry footballers, you have quality in your side. I saw the game against Queen’s last year and they were excellent.”

Last year the Kerry students supped up their post-match meals at the Dub with smiles on their faces as the Queen’s students trooped off disconsolately following their 1-12 to 2-7 loss. David Clifford was the architect of the Tralee win, scoring 1-4 himself and setting up Conor O'Driscoll for the winning goal late on.

Tralee manager Liam Brosnan confirmed that Clifford will miss tomorrow’s game and that he is “a massive loss” to his side’s prospects. However, Brosnan still has current Kerry panellists Gavin Crowley, Dara Moynihan and Michael Potts at his disposal and up-and-coming talents like Peter Keane, Jack Savage, Craig Horan, Jack Morgan, James Duggan and Conor Keane.

“We made it to the semi-final last year but all we’ve been saying to the lads is: ‘Forget about last year, that’s gone’,” said UU boss Rouse.

“We have a new squad, we have quite a number of Freshers but the approach hasn’t changed, it’s all about representing the university.

“Every one of the management team has worn the Jordanstown jersey so it’s getting the message through that it means something to wear this jersey and we want the players to embrace it. That’s been the approach this year and last year.

“The new players have adapted well. The likes of Jason Duffy (Armagh) and Jack Doherty (Derry), who were Freshers last year, have stepped up and are now in county senior panels.”

UU drew with Fermanagh but were well beaten by Tyrone and Derry in the McKenna Cup. Despite those losses, Rouse views the competition as good preparation for tomorrow’s encounter.

“We always get a lot out of it,” he said.

“It’s game-time and you accept that there are always boys who are going to play for their county.

“We have just said ‘you move with it’ and there are other boys who have got in and got an opportunity and there are two or three who have gone in and played well and it’s going to be hard not to give them their place on the back of their McKenna Cup performances.”

The losers tomorrow will face IT Sligo in the Qualifiers next week, the winners go on to the quarter-final on February 6.

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