UUJ can dish out lesson to county teams
The future involvement of university teams in the Power NI Dr McKenna Cup came into question earlier this year when Queen's withdrew from the competition citing the unavailability of their county players.
The Ulster Council has moved to address a recurrence of the problem by nominating Joe Kernan to act as mediator if and when required in the perennial county versus university issue.
But if Queen's were forced to forgo their participation in the early season action this year, then UUJ plan to bring a much different strategy into play for next month's event.
The Jordanstown outfit – bracketed with Down, Antrim and Cavan in what is likely to prove a hugely competitive Section C of the McKenna Cup – is expected to be bolstered by a host of county players and this being the case will set their sights on "making a huge impact", according to chairman John Farrell.
Indeed, the proposed UUJ line-up is akin to a who's who of Ulster football.
Tyrone duo Matthew Donnelly and Ronan O'Neill will be joined by Cavan pair Cillian Clarke and Gearoid McKiernan while Monaghan will provide Colin Walshe, Kieran Hughes and Rory Beggan.
Caolan O'Boyle (Derry), Niall McKeever (Antrim) and Paul Devlin (Down) are other players with county experience who can expect to wear the UUJ colours.
Chairman Farrell stresses that UUJ would be much stronger, too, except for injuries.
"Darren Hughes has just undergone hip surgery while Conor McAliskey is out of action with a shoulder problem," comments Farrell.
"This robs us of two of the best players in Ulster but we feel we have a decent squad and we are intent on making a huge impact in the McKenna Cup.
"It will provide superb preparation for the forthcoming Sigerson Cup competition which is being held in Belfast and this provides an extra incentive for one of the universities here to maybe win it.
"We will certainly be doing our best to get our hands on this trophy but for the moment our focus is on the forthcoming Ryan Cup final and the McKenna Cup competition," he adds.
UUJ have established a tradition of challenging the county teams strongly in the McKenna Cup and as well as players from Ulster they will have representatives from counties outside the province, including Pat Hughes from Sligo.
"Happily, we are able to call on players from a number of counties and this gives us great heart going into the competition," points out Farrell.
"We want to give it our best shot," he stresses.
"The McKenna Cup has gained in status in recent years because every county team takes it very seriously now and this is what adds to the whole image of the competition."
UUJ look set to be one of the teams to beat.