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Eligibility row rumbles on

queen's boss questions desire of ulster council to find a solution

By Declan Bogue

Queen's University Belfast manager, Anthony McGrath, has questioned the desire of the Ulster Council to sort out the player eligibility situation that has stifled their McKenna Cup campaign, stating: "Unfortunately, the Ulster Council seem to care as little as anyone else, they don't seem to step forward."

The Belfast Telegraph can reveal that the competition regulations are not actually legally binding. The agreement in place at present is that college teams have first pick on players. However, Regulation 10; 'Failure to comply with Competition Regulations shall entail forfeiture of the game' – cannot be legally enforced.

Put simply, the Ulster Council cannot exercise their will upon a player who may wish to play for his county before his college. For this to be the case, a motion could be brought to the Ulster Convention, but it would take a lot of jumping through legal loopholes for it to be enshrined.

In their first two games, Queen's have not truly been competitive. Although the margin against Armagh was five points they were notably behind the county side.

When they travelled to play Tyrone on Sunday, it seemed they were giving an excellent account of themselves. However, with the benefit of the strong wind in the second half, the introduction of some experienced figures and their superior conditioning, Tyrone blew them away with an unanswered 2-12 over the last half hour.

Playing under such restricted circumstances has led McGrath to break his silence on the issue, as he told The Belfast Telegraph: "It's not ideal and anyone can see that. You come down here and this takes a lot out of these guys.

"Nobody seems to remember that we play all our games away from home, we play all our games without a full complement of players and we play them during exam time. These are all conditions that we know very well but nobody else cares."

He went on to warn the Ulster Council that Queen's – who sat out last year's competition before returning for this years' under the proviso that Joe Kernan would mediate between colleges and counties – that a collective decision may be made between all the third-level teams.

"The governing body of the competition don't seem to step forward, they don't seem to have the desire to step forward and sort this saga out," said McGrath.

"Unfortunately, the three universities have to come together to sort this out because nobody is making a decision and that's unfortunate.

"The universities went into the competition on the basis that they would have their players and it wasn't an issue at that time.

"Managers have decided – and I have no problem with managers doing this at all as the governing body of the competition should protect the competition, and the spirit of the competition."

Getting a satisfactory resolution to this impasse seems unlikely to the native of Ballyshannon.

"I don't think anybody cares enough about this. Universities' priorities is to win the Sigerson Cup. This cannot be seen as proper preparation for us. Counties only care about their agenda, and that's fine, if I was in the same position I would do myself," McGrath added.

As their first game in the Sigerson Cup draws closer – January 28 against University of Limerick –McGrath will be faced with the headache of having to integrate some key figures back into his side. Niall McKenna was impressive in the middle of the park for Tyrone and he will come under consideration. Paradoxically, he was up against Aaron Findon, who Paul Grimley barred from playing for Queen's against Armagh in the first round of fixtures.

Others that will surely merit inclusion include Ryan Jones, who Pete McGrath insisted play for Fermanagh, and Niall Delargy of Antrim.

The position the colleges are in has become even more acute this season with some county managers insisting that while they are prepared to allow some players to play with their college teams, they are forbidden from lining out against their native counties.

Matters took an even more bizarre twist on Sunday, when Jamie Clarke and Paul Hughes – only off a flight from Florida for the Crossmaglen Rangers team holiday – were parachuted into the Armagh matchday panel for the game against Donegal.

McGrath desperately tried to pull some positives from the defeat on Sunday, commenting that you can always learn in defeat.

"We talked about that in the changing room, about learning about ourselves. This is winter football, there are certain characters required. It is graft and grit and we have characters like that on our team there today. It just wasn't good enough."

Queen's conclude their programme tomorrow night when they travel to Ballybofey to meet Donegal.

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