Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Queen's University await review over McKenna Cup impasse

Queen's players stop Antrim's Eoin O'Neill in a McKenna Cup clash in 2010. They didn't take part in the competition last year

Just over two months before the Dr McKenna Cup begins, the Ulster Council remain confident that an on-going review of the competition will provide a resolution to the issues that are currently alienating Queen's University.

Last December, Queen's pulled out of the January competition when it became clear they were not going to be able to avail of their county players. Five had also been selected for a particular county and were placed in an unfortunate position, as detailed in an Ulster Council statement at the time.

Player-eligibility issues have been a factor over the past several seasons and the college teams of Queen's, University of Ulster and St Mary's have, understandably, been vexed over the problem.

Last January, when asked about the impasse as Queen's prepared for the Sigerson Cup, their GAA Development Officer Aidan O'Rourke said: "If you want to roll back 12 months, we were in the exact same position and the emails we received from the Ulster Council, you'd swear they were copied and pasted. They asked us to participate in the 2012 McKenna Cup without our county players, they promised us a review in February and they would get it sorted.

"Roll on 12 months and we are in the exact same position, nothing is done."

Insiders at Queen's are currently said to be less than impressed at the attempts of mediation to date. They also have the organisational and logistical problems of hosting the Sigerson Cup in February and Fitzgibbon Cup in March.

However, the Ulster Council have been pro-active in trying to find a solution to the current impasse. They have nominated no less than GAA presidential hopeful Aoghan Farrell to chair the review committee, and are expected to present their recommendations in mid-November to the Council.

Just before Queen's withdrew from the competition last year, Farrell had re-iterated that colleges should have been granted first pick on players

Ulster Council PRO, John Connolly, explained: "We decided back a few months ago that we would set up a committee that would look at the McKenna Cup in its entirety. We would review everything about the McKenna Cup, which would include a look at the third-level colleges as well because of the issues surrounding players not being allowed to play for their county or their college."

Since 2003, when the three universities were added to the McKenna Cup roster and the cup had found a permanent home as a January pre-season competition, it went from unloved, unwatched and unwanted to a flourishing competition. The attractions were mainly in seeing how trialists would fare in open competition, without anyone particularly worrying about results.

Indeed, Queen's contributed to one of the finest McKenna Cup memories of recent times when they took Donegal to extra-time in the thrilling final of 2009, played in Healy Park.

This was something Connolly acknowledged when he added: "When the McKenna Cup has gone well for us at the start of bringing in the colleges, it was a marvellous competition. We want to bring it back up to that mark but over the last few years it had become messy, so we set up a review committee and Aogan has chaired it.

They are coming back to us in November with recommendations. The Council's position at the moment is awaiting that review."

Asked about the difficulties that some players will find themselves in with some county managers insisting they must play for their county and not their colleges, Connolly replied: "There are both sides of the argument and the fellas who are under pressure to play for their county in the McKenna Cup, they may not get a game for the county in the National League or going on to the Championship. That puts serious pressure on a college player.

"At the same time, we as a council are hoping to take away that pressure on individual players. They are in a no-win situation and we are hoping to put in place a mechanism that can sort it out."

While Queen's felt their Sigerson Cup preparations would be aided by withdrawal from the McKenna Cup, University of Ulster remained.

Connolly said he was confident of finding an arrangement that would suit all parties, concluding: "There are no closed doors. Every option is on the table here."

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