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UUJ's Niall McKeever striving to reach the Sigerson summit

By John Campbell

Published 19/02/2016

Aiming high: Niall McKeever, pictured overlooking Belfast, has Sigerson Cup success in McKeever his sights with UUJ
Aiming high: Niall McKeever, pictured overlooking Belfast, has Sigerson Cup success in McKeever his sights with UUJ

There are certainly no half measures with UUJ when it comes to the pursuit of success. As the club provide a perfect stage for this weekend's Sigerson Cup finals at their spacious Loughshore complex, not one but two captains will lead the side in today's attractive semi-final against reigning champions Dublin City University (3.00pm).

Niall McKeever (Antrim) and Stephen Sheridan (Armagh) are the duo who will share responsibility for galvanising a side that is liberally garnished by inter-county talent and fired by ambition.

For McKeever, a Sigerson Cup triumph would see an extension of his rejuvenated career at club and county level.

The strapping midfield ace played for the Brisbane Lions in the Australian Football League from 2009 to 2013 during which he made 22 appearances at the highest level, recording three goals in the process.

His love affair with Rules football was triggered shortly after he had been part of the Antrim side that lost to Tyrone in the 2009 Ulster final at Clones.

McKeever resumed his Antrim career in 2014 and last year saw his club Casements, Portglenone flourish in the top division of the All-County League having won promotion from the Intermediate sector.

Right now, McKeever has cause for considerable optimism as he was a key figure in Antrim's wins over Carlow and Wexford earlier this month, thrusting the Saffrons into a position from where they can mount a strong push for promotion from Division Four of the league.

But his whole focus for the next 48 hours will be on bringing the Sigerson Cup back to the Jordanstown seat of learning.

"I had a great time in Australia and it was a wonderful experience. I am glad to be back in the Antrim side again but obviously this weekend I am giving everything to the UUJ cause," stated McKeever.

"We feel we have a good team and while we were happy with the way in which we overcame St Mary's in the quarter-finals, we still think we have room for improvement.

"In DCU we are meeting a side that is packed with county players of a high standard. They will be coming to us in confident mood and it's a big challenge."

McKeever looks certain to be partnered by Cavan's Michael Argue at midfield and their performance will have a key bearing on the outcome of the game.

While they seek to control the central area, Sheridan will forsake his usual midfield berth to help bolster a UUJ half-back line that includes exciting Tyrone U21 starlet Frank Burns.

For Sheridan, today's match marks another milestone in his bid to make up for lost time.

"I suffered a broken wrist last year and missed a lot of action because of that. I am just glad to be back in action again with my club Forkhill and with Armagh. Forkhill managed to get up into the top division in 2014 and we participated there last year," he explained.

He turned out at midfield for Armagh against Meath and Laois this month in the Allianz League and is disappointed that the team has yet to secure their first points in the competition.

"We play Fermanagh next weekend and that will be a big game for us," he added.

"But this week-end it's all about the Sigerson. This is a massive match for UUJ against DCU. We know we have to hit top form and we believe that we are ready for them."

UUJ, coached by Barney McAleenan and Martin McHugh, will look to Patrick McBrearty, Kieran Hughes, Ryan McAnespie and Caolan O'Boyle to put scores on the board.

Down native McAleenan pointed out: "Our aim as coaches has been to try and blend the side into a cohesive unit.

"I think there has been evidence of this to date and hopefully more will be provided against what we know to be very difficult opponents."

In today's other Sigerson Cup semi-final, University of Limerick meet UCD (1pm).

Limerick are regarded as the surprise packet in the last-four line-up.

UCD are backboned by Dublin All-Ireland winning quartet Michael Fitzsimmons, Jack McCaffrey, Paul Mannion and Davy Byrne.

Belfast Telegraph

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