Fears that University of Ulster Jordanstown and St Mary’s University College, Belfast might pull out of the Power NI Dr McKenna Cup competition in the wake of Queen’s University’s withdrawal yesterday have been allayed.
It was initially felt that all three university sides might decide to opt out of the competition which is due to start on Sunday fortnight.
Queen’s had been bracketed in Section B along with Armagh, Down and Cavan but recently expressed reservations about their involvement when several of their players were instead required by their counties.
This morphed into a tense university v county impasse and resulted in Queen’s manager Anthony McGrath making it clear that his side would not participate without their five county players.
When it became clear that no resolution was in sight, Queen’s formally withdraw from the tournament.
“We have been informed by both UUJ and St Mary’s that they are fully committed to the McKenna Cup,” said an Ulster Council spokesman, “There is no meeting of the Council scheduled to deal with this matter as things stand but obviously it is disappointing to see Queen’s take this course of action.”
The Council subsequently confirmed that it was disappointed that “this course of action has been taken” and admitted that the Queen’s county players had been put in “an unfortunate position.”
A Council statement added: “The Power NI Dr McKenna Cup will commence on Sunday 6th January and we look forward to another competitive event to start the New Year. “
Queen’s, meanwhile, said they had “decided with regret to withdraw in the absence of some resolution to what has been an ongoing issue.”
The club’s statement went on: “Participation at this stage would involve the loss of a significant number of first team players to counties and added to injury and exam pressures, we don't think anyone could expect a university team to play at this level without so many players.
“Furthermore, the prospect of heavy losses would do little for morale and preparation ahead of the Sigerson Cup competition.”
The Queen's statement also spoke of the university's “disappointment that the competition regulations have not been adhered to”. The statement added: “At all times we have been open and available to talk and negotiate with the county managers. We are disappointed that this openness to discussion has not been reciprocated by particular counties.”
“Our participation in the McKenna Cup was good for college football and it played no small part in driving us to Sigerson Cup success in 2007. Earning a place in the McKenna Cup final of 2009 was one of the proudest achievements in the history of the club and the university and we do hope to participate again.”
And in a parting shot, Queen’s declared that “undue pressure” had been exerted on players over the past two years to turn out for their counties rather than for their university sides — a claim that is likely to be disputed by at least some county team bosses.
New Armagh manager Paul Grimley was scheduled to make his competitive debut on the touchline against Queen’s on January 6 but could now find himself confronting different opponents or having his baptism deferred.