Queen’s midfield ace Charlie Vernon will go into tonight’s Gaelic Life Dr McKenna Cup semi-final against Down at Pairc Esler, Newry (7.30) fired by a two-fold ambition.
The 21-year-old powerhouse is not only anxious to see Queen’s become the first university side to reach the final of the competition, he is also determined to flash out another message to Armagh manager Peter McDonnell that he covets a berth in his side for the National League.
Vernon’s form to date, indeed, is one of the key reasons why Queen’s find themselves in the last four, his engine-room partnership with fellow county man Paul Courtney forming a dynamic attacking axis which has seen the students more than hold their own.
Up front, Derry duo Sean Leo McGoldrick and James Kielt have been tucking away the scores, but Vernon concedes that Queen’s will now find the going tough against a Down side keen to atone for their lapse against Monaghan a week ago.
“Down had beaten Tyrone and St Mary’s before that game and we know they want to retain the McKenna Cup,” said Vernon.
“We lost our last game against Armagh when they got three goals in the second-half and we certainly cannot afford to be as generous against Down who are usually hard to handle at Newry.
Having already provided Peter McDonnell with a sample of what he has to offer in that game against Armagh — he was Queen’s best player, highlighting his performance with two splendid points — Vernon is strongly focussed on capturing a place in the orchard county side for the National League and Championship.
“I enjoyed the experience I gained in the side last year and I’m very keen to get in there again,” he said.
“Competition for places is fairly intense and there are other players hoping to become regulars as well as myself so it’s a big challenge.”
Queen’s boss Aidan O’Rourke and Down manager Ross Carr — their respective businesses are close to each other in Newry, incidentally — plan to field their strongest sides.
Carr’s son Aidan found himself in the rather unusual role of full-back against Monaghan while Joe Ireland and Jackie Lynch may be detailed to curb the efficiency of the Vernon-Courtney alliance at midfield.
The Magees — Michael and Cathal Magee, as well as Benny Coulter and Daniel Hughes, are likely to be entrusted with the responsibility of scoring the points for Down.