UUJ students ready for Sigerson Cup bid against Dublin City
Two players currently sampling contrasting fortunes in Division Two of the Allianz Football League are hoping to get game time for UUJ in tomorrow's Sigerson Cup semi-final against holders Dublin City University at Jordanstown (3.00pm).
Gareth McKinless has played a part in taking Derry into a strong position from which to get promotion to the top tier in the league while Ethan Rafferty is among the players to whom Armagh boss Kieran McGeeney will be looking to haul his side clear of relegation worries when the competition resumes on Saturday week.
Both players have been recovering from knocks but are keen to play a part in UUJ's bid to land the Sigerson trophy for the first time since 2008.
They are among a raft of inter-county players who will bolster the UUJ line-up against a similarly equipped DCU side.
Patrick McBrearty, Ryan McHugh (both Donegal), Niall McKenna (Antrim), Michael Argue, Killian Clarke (both Cavan), Kieran Hughes, Ryan McAnespie (both Monaghan), Caolan O'Boyle (Derry) and Ronan McNamee and Ritchie Donnelly (Tyrone) are among the familiar faces who will be lining out for the Jordanstown side which is jointly managed by Barney McAleenan and Martin McHugh.
They will confront a DCU side that includes Diarmnuid O'Connor (Mayo), Colm Begley (Laois), Michael Quinn (Longford), David Byrne (Dublin), Steven O 'Brien (Tipperary), and Conor Moynagh (Cavan).
Moynagh has been showing up superbly at centre-half-back for Cavan this year while O'Connor is currently making a name for himself with Mayo.
Patrick McBrearty has been in hot form for both UUJ and Donegal of late and can pose a big threat to the DCU defence providing he is plied with adequate possession.
He landed five points, four from frees, in UUJ's quarter-final win over St Mary's when Monaghan pair Kieran Hughes and Ryan McAnespie were also prominent in the winners' attack.
McBrearty is difficult to dispossess and his strength on the ball could prove a vital asset against the tough-tackling DCU defence.
His Donegal colleague Ryan McHugh is in sparkling form right now and has played a major part in his county's fine start to the league which has seen them claim the scalps of Down and Cork while scoring an impressive total of 5-29 in the process.
McHugh's ability to break from deep was never better illustrated than in Donegal's win over Down when he scored two goals and generally orchestrated his side's attacking strategy.
He is capable of unsettling DCU because of his blistering pace and subtle ball control while his willingness to support colleagues makes him a key cog in the UUJ side.
Niall Moyna, who was part of the Down management team while James McCartan was in charge, manages the DCU side that has been in fine form recently.
Barney McAleenan believes that they will present a major threat to his UUJ side who are hosting the tournament finals week-end at their splendid Jordanstown complex.
"They basically have the same team as last year so they have gained considerable experience of playing together. They are very well-organised, very fluid and are well-balanced," points out McAleenan.
"I watched them just lately and I would say that they have improved from last year. Obviously this is going to be a massive challenge for us but we have belief in our own ability and team spirit. We are playing at home and we would hope to have a full hand from which to select which would be encouraging."
For McKinless (left) and Rafferty in particular, the match will have special significance.
We know that Division Two of the league is currently throwing up a variety of Ulster derby ties but it is just as competitive and intense at Sigeron Cup level, you can be sure of that," stresses Rafferty. "It would be just great to make Saturday's final on our home turf."