Ulster University manager Barry Dillon wary of Maynooth Sigerson Cup semi-final challenge

Electric Ireland Sigerson Cup semi-final: Maynooth University v Ulster University (tonight, Inniskeen, 8pm, live on Sport TG4 YouTube)

GAA manager
Ulster University manager Barry Dillon speaks to his players after his side's victory over MTU Cork in round three of the Electric Ireland Sigerson Cup (Stephen Marken / SPORTSFILE/SPORTSFILE)

Ulster University are hoping to end a decade-long wait for a Sigerson Cup final appearance when they meet Maynooth University in Inniskeen on Thursday night, but they are under no illusions of the task they have ahead of them.

The five-time competition winners haven’t claimed the title since 2008, having lost two deciders in that time, 2011 and 2014, both against UCC, while Maynooth haven’t competed in the final since 2012.

“As you get this close to a final now, you want to make sure you get there,” said UU manager Barry Dillon.

“It’s a big event and a big day, all the colleges throughout Ireland are trying to get there.

“We’re an hour’s football away from doing that but every step you go the challenges get tougher and this Maynooth team will be no different. They’re backboned by the Offaly and Kildare All-Ireland U20 teams of recent years.

“It’s a tough test and they’ll be looking to get into that Sigerson Cup final just as much as we are and that’s why it’s sure to be an intriguing battle.”

Kildare sharpshooter Darragh Kirwin and Eoghan Frayne of Meath are the two names that jump off the Maynooth teamsheet from an attacking perspective, but Dillon warns they have plenty of talent right throughout the field.

Kirwin and Frayne were the top scorers for the Kildare university in their quarter-final victory over Queen’s University, Belfast, which they edged by the minimum of margins.

“Even corner-backs like Tom Moran of Wicklow, he gets up and scores, Paddy McDermott and Luke Killian, their two wing half-forwards for Kildare – there’s four or five Kildare seniors in that team including Darragh Kirwin.

“Shane O’Sullivan, he was full-forward on that Kildare U20 team, the Meath boys, Eoghan Frayne and Rory Kinsella, they’re quality players. Colin Walsh, the Roscommon centre half-back, he’s a powerhouse.

“They’re serious operators and even their subs, Keith O’Neill from Offaly, they’re laden with senior inter-county quality. This level of competition, it’s high-level stuff and it’s just all on the day really.”

UU will once again be without Glen and Derry duo Conor Glass and Ethan Doherty, who haven’t played at all in the competition this season, while Derry defender Eoin McEvoy and Fionan O’Brien of Fermanagh remain sidelined through injury.

They will have the Canavan brothers, Darragh and Ruairi, to call on once again as well as Josh Largo Ellis of Fermanagh, Down’s Ryan Magill and Derry attacker Niall Loughlin.

“We got through the National League games at the weekend there for the county boys that we have,” said Dillon.

“We have a good balance of a squad this year, we have half of county players and half of really solid club players that are trying to push on.

“It’s a good balance and in fairness the county managers have all been working with us so we should be sitting now with a clean bill of health.

“There are a few boys like Fionan O’Brien and Eoin McEvoy that are carrying injuries but for the team we had the last day, we’re more or less good to go again.”

Thursday’s other semi-final sees UCD, who have already earned a win over UU this season, having beaten Dillon’s men by eight points when the sides clashed in round 2A, take on University of Limerick (SETU Carlow, 6.30pm, live on Sport TG4 YouTube).

UCD beat last year’s winners University of Galway to reach the last four while last year’s beaten finalists UL, who earned a one-point win over Maynooth in round 2A, saw off DCU in the quarter-finals.