Adrian McGuckin has one special date pencilled in his diary. The very thought of UUJ against Queen’s University in the Sigerson Cup on Wednesday February 3 is enough to set the pulses racing.
These sides have huge respect for each other, but that will be set aside as they step up their pursuit of the biggest prize in university football.
Big Adrian is a football man through and through and the UUJ manager appreciates there is something special about a competition that has a magic all of its own.
“It’s a unique competition in that those involved virtually live in each others’ pockets for the duration of the competition.
“They live in houses close to each other. They study and play sport together which makes for a special bond.”
McGuckin has now been involved in the Sigerson for 11 years and remains very much in awe of one of the most prestigious competitions in the GAA.
He has been involved in four Sigerson finals, winning two and losing one, to bitter rivals Queen’s two seasons ago in extra time.
Long before he turned his attention to Sigerson he was totally immersed in the MacRory Cup winning 12 titles from 18 final appearances with St.Patrick’s, Maghera.
During a 25-year period the Hogan Cup, the blue riband of colleges football, also came to south Derry.
Adrian’s contribution during this period cannot be overstated.
It’s worth remembering that 18 of Derry’s 1993 All Ireland winning squad were former pupils.
During that same period the MacRory Cup witnessed the emergence of players destined to leave a major imprint at a much higher level.
Young men of the calibre of Greg Blaney, James McCartan, Paul McGrane, the McEntee twins, Kieran McGeeney, Dermot McNicholl, Anthony Tohill, Henry Downey, Enda Gormley and Martin Lockhart all emerged to enrich colleges football like never before.
If ever there was a golden period in MacRory football this was it.
Long before that though Adrian was almost lost to the sport when he went to Rainey Endowed school in Magherafelt.
He speaks with great fondness of his time there and of the many friends he made in what was a totally new environment for him.
For a young lad of 11 from Ballinderry on the shores of Lough Neagh it was initially a daunting experience.
“The whole thing was just brilliant and it gave me a great love of both schools and university football.
“It was the first time I was actually part of organised sport with proper coaching. I was fortunate enough to play in two Schools Cup finals winning one and was captain in 1968 when we made it as far as the semi final.”
An outstanding prop he played for Ulster schools alongside a certain Ronnie Flanagan and Jim Neely of BBC fame.
On leaving Rainey he had to chose between gaelic or rugby.
“In the end I plumped for gaelic. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I’ve no regrets. What made it difficult was that I was a far better rugby player than I was at gaelic.
“I was actually being tipped to go a long way in rugby, but in my last year at school I was playing for the Derry senior side.”
It’s a mark of his versatility that Adrian won an All Ireland minor medal with the Oak Leaf county in 1965, adding an Under-21 medal for good measure three years later.
But perhaps the proudest day of all was in 2002 when his club Ballinderry were crowned All Ireland club champions after victory over Nemo Rangers.
Most Sundays during the summer the affable Derryman can be heard on Radio Ulster summarising the various Ulster championship matches. It’s a role he’s well suited to and one he revels in.
As he contemplates the GAA landscape he cannot see one county being the dominant force.
Instead he can see the much sought after but elusive Sam Maguire visiting a number of counties which might just benefit the sport in the long term.