Sigerson Cup: UUJ ready to take centre stage
President recalls Jordanstown journey as they gear up to host Sigerson finale
From barricading the first vice-Chancellor into his own office in an effort to gain more recognition for Gaelic games to hosting the biggest event in colleges competition, the GAA fraternity in University Ulster, Jordanstown has come a long way.
One man who has journeyed down the road longer than most is John Farrell, President of GAA in Jordanstown, who is busy getting ready for this weekend's events on the Shore Road campus.
Not only is the flagship Sigerson Cup being hosted - UUJ face Dublin City University in the semi-final on Friday at 3pm - but also a number of other subsidiary competitions such as the Trench Cup and the Corn Comhairle Ardoideachais.
When the educational facility opened as a Polytechnic in 1971, it was noted in the feasibility study of sporting facilities that they could foresee 'no demand for Gaelic games'.
Farrell recalled when he arrived to study Environmental Health in 1978.
He chuckled: "When they designed this place, the exact term was that they 'did not envisage a demand for Gaelic games'.
"We got two pitches in 1981, they started to build them in '79. Recently we have augmented, our latest pitch is only two years old here and it is completely floodlit."
At present they have three full pitches, two of them floodlit. They also have a floodlit training pitch.
The seeds of the club had already been sown by the first group to form the Gaelic club, including Gerry O'Reilly of Carrickcruppen in Armagh, Oliver Cassidy of Belcoo in Fermanagh, Cavan's Barney McGovern and the Augher publican and brother of former Tyrone player and manager Eugene, Dessie McKenna.
For a number of years, the club played where it could on the grounds and in a neat twist of fate had a set of portable goals that were actually made by Hasson Structural Engineers, the Rasharkin company of the current Ulster Council President, Michael Hasson.
In 1976, a team captained by Jim McCartan - who works in the PE department in Abbey CBS - won the Freshers' Championship.
The fight for recognition reached a dramatic point when Farrell and others "barricaded the vice-Chancellor into his own offices".
Vice-Chancellor at the time was Sir Derek Birley, the renowned educationalist.
As a sporting enthusiast himself, he lent his support and now the sports have grown to the point where University Ulster, Jordanstown can host a festival of Gaelic games on their own facilities.
After graduation, instead of drifting away from the college, former Armagh joint-manager Brian Canavan convinced Farrell to serve as secretary for the club. He has been a fixture around UUJ ever since.
Yet ask Farrell if this weekend is a dream realised, and he reveals how it is happening almost by accident.
"It wasn't planned, believe it or not, because DCU had the Sigerson. For some reason that I do not know, it was announced at the AGM in April that that was no longer the case and they were inviting submissions to host it," he explained.
"To my knowledge, we applied to host the Sigerson. CIT in Cork applied for the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon.
"And the powers at Croke Park decided that they would give CIT the Fitzgibbon and since that we were well overdue a Sigerson - it hasn't been here since 1993 - and the reason I always put it off was until the facilities were here."
Back in 1993, Jordanstown were indeed the 'hosts' of the Sigerson Cup, but because of the "terrible state" of their pitches they hosted the games across Belfast at venues such as Corrigan Park and St Gall's grounds at Milltown.
The final featured Paul Brewster captaining Queen's University Belfast to victory over St Mary's College in a Belfast derby at Casement Park, the scoreline finishing 1-12 to 0-4.
Sigerson competitions have been scaled back from the blitz-style competitions they were in the past, with the semi-finals taking place on Friday and the final this Saturday.
Nonetheless, Farrell has praised the "enormous effort" that it has taken from volunteers, enthusiasts and the staff of UUJ to host the weekend and the thousands of people expected on campus over the two days.
Happily, the UUJ team have made it to their own party, defeating St Mary's College last Wednesday.
They have a team sprinkled with stardust with Patrick McBrearty, Ryan McHugh, Evan Regan, Niall McKeever, Kieran Hughes, Killian Clarke and Ronan McNamee all playing key roles for the side.
They are managed by prominent Tyrone coach Benny Hurl, along with Martin McHugh and Barney McAleenan.
Their last-four tie against Dublin City University is on Friday at 3pm, with the earlier game featuring University College Dublin against University Limerick. The final will be hosted on Saturday, with throw-in at 2.30pm.