Colleges leaving their mark

THEY’RE not exactly flavour of the month amongst intercounty managers, but third-level sides are determined to leave their mark on the 2010 pre-season GAA fare.

Tomorrow, DCU contest the semi-final of the O’Byrne Cup, Sligo IT are challenging strongly for a spot in the FBD League final and there’ll definitely be a student side in Munster’s Waterford Crystal Cup hurling competition as UCC and UL go toe to toe in today’s semi-final.

For the Cork college it’s a hectic time on the playing fields. This afternoon UCC’s footballers will get to enjoy a pleasant deviation from their Sigerson Cup journey when they head to Tralee to take on Kerry in the McGrath Cup decider.

Triumphing against DIT last Wednesday was their seasonal objective, and a defeat in that game would undoubtedly have sapped their interest levels in this fixture. Instead victory ensures they will travel today in a buoyant mood ahead of their next Sigerson Cup assignment against NUIG next Wednesday.

“Now that we won the Sigerson game on Wednesday, it makes tomorrow a nice bonus,” says UCC selector John Corcoran. “Had we lost on Wednesday, it would in effect have made our season over and would only be the equivalent of a 3rd-4th placed play-off for us. Now we can go to Tralee and enjoy the occasion.”

There are plenty who will argue that UCC should not be in the competition in the first place. GAA development officer in the college, John Grainger, offers a rebuttal to that argument.

“Lots of people think that we shouldn’t be involved and the counties should have the first call on players. But I think colleges add a lot to them and by getting to the McGrath Cup final, we’ve shown how serious we take it.

“The Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cups are great breeding grounds. I don’t believe some people appreciate that and if you can’t hack it at third-level, you can’t make the progression to inter-county. For us it’s a huge bonus to be involved.”

Corcoran concurs with that school of thought.

“You’ll always have critics but we’re only playing by the rules. The Munster Council decided that colleges would be able to enter into the McGrath Cup competition and it’s been very beneficial for us.

“Our McGrath Cup wins generated huge self-belief in the team this year. After beating a side like the Sigerson Cup champions CIT, we knew we could perform.”

Grainger argues that it is beneficial for intercounty senior managers to have the third-level teams in competitive fare in January, reasoning that it enables them to cast their net wide in pursuit of players. “Look at our two matches in the Waterford Crystal this year. We played Cork with a lot of Cork players in our team, which meant Denis Walsh could try out new fellas for Cork.

“ Against Limerick we’d Brian O’Sullivan playing and that meant there was another guy who got a game for Limerick. We also gave Graeme Mulcahy to Limerick for that competition even though he’s on our Fitzgibbon panel. Any right-minded person can see the value in that.”

Today’s McGrath Cup decider offers further evidence to bolster Grainger’s viewpoint. In the UCC lineup against DIT last Wednesday, Kerry natives Shane Enright (Tarbert), Adrian Greaney (St Pat’s), John Buckley (Dr Crokes) and David O’Callaghan (St Pat’s) all started while Daithi Casey (Dr Crokes) and Peter Crowley (Laune Rangers) were both drafted into the action as substitutes.

They may not all be on the verge of Jack O’Connor’s squad this season but all are viable future prospects for the Kerry boss to run the rule over.

“Jack O’Connor can look at these guys today in a proper competitive game,” says Corcoran. “That’s got to be a good thing in my view. It’s a great honour for us to be contesting a McGrath Cup final against the All-Ireland champions.”

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