SIGERSON CUP FIRST ROUND
UCD V UU
Sunday, UCD, 14.15pm
GARETH McKinless should be feeling pressure ahead of this weekend’s Sigerson Cup clash with UCD.
The Ulster University are up against the tournament favourites UCD, the team which beat them in the semi-final in 2018 when McKinless was half back.
McKinless is in his final year of university so this is his last chance to win a Sigerson Cup medal.
But crucially, he’s just returned from a medial ligament injury, and his place on the team is far from certain.
Paul Rouse’s team were playing mid week, and McKinless was hoping to get enough game time to prepare him for the UCD game.
“I am hoping to play. I haven’t played a match since the Slaughtneil game in the Derry Championship (when Ballinderry lost).
“I would like to get a bit of game time before Sunday. I have to see what happens.”
The chances are, McKinless won’t start against UCD.
He said that Paul Rouse has taken a harder line this year.
“He’s been a bit more ruthless this year. Players have not been getting away with what they used to. Before, players were allowed to miss training with stupid excuses. That doesn’t happen now. You have to be at training or you won’t play. Paul’s been very firm about that.
“And there aren’t any big egos any more, there are no big star players.
“I have been there for three years and this year has been different.”
McKinless said that he was inspired by the St Mary’s University Sigerson team which won the competition two years ago.
He says that Ulster University are more like that side.
“That St Mary’s team didn’t have a gifted team, but they were hard working. They played for each other. There were no big egos on that team.”
McKinless said that after three years of Sigerson football he’s learned a few things about the competition.
“You learn that it is a team game. You can line out whatever way you want, you could have 15 of the best players but unless you play as a team, you won’t win anything.
“We want to go out and work hard and give a good account of ourselves.”
Ulster University have shown signs already this year that they could win their sixth title, and their first since 2008.
Paul Rouse’s team won the Division one Universities final, beating NUI Galway 1-8 to 0-7.
That might have served as revenge for last year, when NUIG beat Ulster University 1-8 to 1-7 in the Sigerson Cup quarter-finals.
“Everything is going well. Winning the Ryan cup has set us in good stead.
“But we are going to play the favourites on Sunday. We have not beaten them in seven or eight years.
“It would be great to win a Sigerson medal in my final year, but it is too early to think about that. We just have to take it one step at a time. Ulster University have been boosted by some strong, new players in the past couple of years. Derry county minor and u-21 star Padraig McGrogan has impressed McKinless.
Similarly the Jones brothers Dalaigh and Ryan from Dungannon have also been playing well according to McKinless.
And he said that Tattyreagh’s John Harkin has been having a good season.
But they are facing the most difficult game of the competition.
“We are playing the favourites. They are such a strong team. They are full of star players.
“But the pressure is all on them. It is not on us.”
As McKinless already pointed out, he has seen in the past three years teams with plenty of star players who haven’t won the Sigerson Cup. He should be feeling pressure, but the Ballinderry man is showing none of it. All he has to worry about is trying to get on that team on Sunday.