By Michael Moynihan
MIDLETON hurling star Mickey O’Connell has opted out of the Cork senior hurling panel, informing the management team that he is unavailable for selection for the 2005 season.
O’Connell won an All-Ireland minor medal in 1995 and followed that with U21 All-Ireland medals in 1997 and 1998 before going on to make his senior championship debut in 1999 against Waterford in Semple Stadium.
He was picked at midfield, although he was well known up to U21 level as a free-scoring wing-forward.
O’Connell gave a man-of-the-match display on his senior championship debut, contributing eight points to Cork’s victory and outplaying the then Hurler of the Year, Tony Browne.
The east Cork man maintained his form throughout that season and was an integral part of Cork’s victory against the odds over Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final.
O’Connell also starred in Cork’s run to the All-Ireland final in 2003, and while he started only one game last season - at midfield in the Rebels’ Munster SHC semi-final against Limerick - he came on as a substitute and scored in four other games in Cork’s run to their 29th title.
Meanwhile, for the first year ever the third level education sector in Ulster will compete with a combined team in the Universities Hurling Championship, the Fitzgibbon Cup.
The team will be composed of players from Queen’s University Belfast, the Universities of Ulster at Jordanstown, Magee and Coleraine, St Mary’s College Belfast, and Letterkenny IT, and it will face the winners of Waterford IT and UCD in the quarter-finals in mid-February.
Former Antrim star Terence ‘Sambo’ McNaughton will manage the team, with Paul Callaghan and Gavin Duffy as his assistants.
McNaughton has already pulled a strong squad together and they have been training hard over the past few weeks. Diarmuid Cahill, spokesperson for Ulster Third Level Colleges said: "This new initiative, which is for a two-year trial period, will hopefully kick-start hurling development in Ulster.
"Queen’s and Jordanstown over the last few years have competed in the Fitzgibbon Cup with little success.
"Hopefully this new and exciting initiative will present an opportunity to return to the glory days of the 1950s, when the last success at Fitzgibbon was recorded."
As part of the preparations the Ulster Combined team take on Antrim in a challenge game today at 2pm at Queen’s University playing fields. Next Saturday they take on Down at the same venue, also at 2pm.
Wexford fury at a jaw-breaking incident in the county senior football final has resulted in a player being banned for six months.
The incident occurred during the Sarsfields-Starlights senior final when Sarsfields player Niall Sheils was felled in an off-the-ball incident midway through the second half.
The incident went unnoticed by referee Sean Whelan and his match officials but the player had to be helped from the pitch.
Following a letter of complaint from the Sarsfields club, the Wexford County Board disciplinary committee held a full investigation into the incident.
After several meetings it has banned Starlights’ Anthony Russell for six months, to run from their last meeting in December.
The disciplinary committee also handed the Starlights club a €500 fine. This is the latest jaw-breaking incident in the GAA and comes on the heels of the high profile case involving Down’s James McCartan and Westmeath’s Kenny Larkin, when the Down player was ordered by the court to pay €10,000 compensation to avoid a jail sentence. The money was given to charity on the instruction of Larkin.