Football

‘The whole thing is up in the air... It’s madness’ - Queen’s boss Conor Deegan ahead of Maynooth trip

Sigerson Cup quarter-final: Maynooth v Queen’s University Belfast (Maynooth, 7.30pm Wednesday)

Queens University Belfast v DCU - Electric Ireland Higher Education GAA Sigerson Cup Round 1 9 January 2024; Rory Donnelly, centre, supported by Queens teammate Joe McDaid, competes for a high ball with Shane Walsh of DCU during the Electric Ireland Higher Education GAA Sigerson Cup Round 1 match between Queens University Belfast and DCU at The Dub at Queen’s Sport in Belfast. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile (Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE/SPORTSFILE)

TURN up, tune in, and try not to get knocked out. Mind-altering substances might help make sense of it all, but Queen’s boss Conor Deegan bemoans that proper preparation for Sigerson Cup matches in impossible.

“The whole thing is up in the air,” says the Down legend. “Having lads involved with their counties, trying to accommodate their colleges, and play for their colleges. It’s madness at the moment and something that needs to be addressed very quickly.”

Queen’s have had a fortnight since defeating TUS Midlands in round two to set up this quarter-final, away to Maynooth, but haven’t had their county players in that time, says Deegan:

“No, no, they’d still be with their counties, we wouldn’t see them. Obviously we train away with the others.

“No fault of the lads – any time they’re available they are there [with Queen’s], they have committed themselves.

“It’s just the nature of the entire beast. It’s almost like a runaway train at this stage and it’s hard to know how to put the brakes on it.

“Whether they don’t want colleges playing, I don’t know. When you have it falling into the National League it’s unfair on the players. They talk about ‘player welfare’ but it’s lip service at this moment in time. It’s the same for all colleges.”

What is different is that opponents Maynooth will have home advantage again despite coming through ‘the back door’ after losing in round two, while Queen’s have to travel despite winning their two matches so far.

“That’s an anomaly. You have to wonder about the rationale,” said Deegan.

Former Down star Conor Deegan is Queen's Sigerson Cup manager. Picture by Philip Walsh
Former Down star Conor Deegan is Queen's Sigerson Cup manager. Picture by Philip Walsh Former Down star Conor Deegan is Queen's Sigerson Cup manager. Picture by Philip Walsh

“From our perspective we would have expected to host. Apparently it’s because the last time they met Queen’s, in 2019, Maynooth travelled.”

Queen’s may have come the direct route but they’re still not getting it easy. The Malone Road men followed up their stunning start, a victory over their regular nemeses DCU, by beating TUS Midlands 1-14 to 1-10 in the halfway house of Pairc Esler, Newry.

Queen’s had to give up home advantage due to freezing conditions in Belfast, but Deegan was glad not to have to play fully away. The only down side was a hamstring injury to Aidan McCloskey, which rules out the Magherafelt lad.

The 1-14 to 1-10 win in Newry, with the key Queen’s goal from Fermanagh midfielder Joe McDaid, sent them straight through to the quarter-finals, but Deegan doesn’t know if that’s a help or a hindrance:

“It is hard to get a head of steam up. We missed that week: does that make us fresher or does their extra game give them that little lift, bind them a bit closer together? We won’t really know until we take the pitch.”

Maynooth have had a very topsy-turvy Sigerson season. They started off with a thumping win over MTU Cork, making light of being the visitors by winning 4-11 to 2-9. Yet in round two they struggled to score, even on home ground, and lost out by 0-8 to 0-7 against the University of Limerick.

The Sigerson Cup and the start of the inter-county season are in perpetual conflict, and it isn't working for anyone, least of all the players. Picture by Hugh Russell
The Sigerson Cup and the start of the inter-county season are in perpetual conflict, and it isn't working for anyone, least of all the players. The Sigerson Cup and the start of the inter-county season are in perpetual conflict, and it isn't working for anyone, least of all the players.

Maynooth then caused a massive shock in the last round, knocking out holders University College Cork, starting strongly to win by 2-14 to 1-12.

“It’s a fair clip up from Cork to Maynooth,” notes Deegan, so travel could be an adverse factor against Queen’s, although he also acknowledges their opponents’ quality:

“Maynooth have built this team on the back of two really good Fresher squads, so I don’t believe this is a surprise in any shape or form that they’re going well. They have a fair sprinkling of lads playing for Kildare, Meath, Laois.”