Queen's withdraw from McKenna Cup over player availability row

Aidan O'Rourke

Queen's have pulled out of next month's Dr McKenna Cup because of the row over a number of their players representing their counties in the competition.

A Queen's statement on Wednesday said that they had "decided with regret to withdraw" from the competition.

"The club were hoping for some resolution to the ongoing issue but this hasn't happened," said the statement from the Queen's club.

Queen's were scheduled to face Armagh, Down and Cavan in the competition.

The Belfast university lost all three of their McKenna Cup games this year after playing with a weakened squad and manager Anthony McGrath said earlier this month that they would not be prepared "to be in that position again".

Last week, Ulster Council president Aogan Farrell appealed to counties to ensure that the three university teams would have the first call on student players in the competition.

However, despite that plea, Queen's have felt compelled to take the nuclear option in the controversy with five of their players understood to have been picked for county teams.

In his comments earlier this month, McGrath said that he expected Ryan Rafferty, Coalan Rafferty, Eugene McVerry (all Armagh), Sean Warnock and Harry Og Conlan (both Tyrone), Ryan Jones and Brian Cox (both Fermanagh), Owen Costello and Ryan Mallon (both Down) to play for their counties in the competition.

Wednesday's statement added:"Participation at this stage would involve the loss of a significant number of first team players to counties and added to injury and exam pressures, we don't think anyone could expect a university team to play at this level without so many players.

"Furthermore, the prospect of heavy losses would do little for morale and preparation ahead of the Sigerson Cup competition."

The Queen's statement also spoke of the university's "disappointment that the competition regulations have not been adhered to".

"At all times we have been open and available to talk and negotiate with the county managers.

"We are disappointed that this openness to discussion has not been reciprocated by particular counties."

The Queen's statement added that they had been "privileged to be asked to join the McKenna Cup back in 2003".

"We believe that that decision by Comhairle Uladh rejuvenated the competition and added a new dimension.

"We have enjoyed the experience and we are grateful to the past and present members of Comhairle Uladh.

"Our participation in the McKenna Cup was good for college football and it played no small part in driving us to Sigerson Cup success in 2007.

"Earning a place in the McKenna Cup final of 2009 was one of the proudest achievements in the history of the club and the university and we do hope to participate again.

"We also believe that our participation (and that of UUJ and St Mary's) was good for intercounty football and the game in general in the province.

"Therefore, we feel that it is a real shame that it has come to this."

The statement concluded by alleging that "undue pressure" had been placed on students over the last two seasons to declare for their counties.

Queen's were due to face Armagh on 6 January, Down on 13 January and Cavan on 16 January.

Jordanstown are also losing five players to counties and Crossmaglen's All-Ireland Club Championships commitments but they will be remaining in the competition.

"We believe our argument is best served from within and will work for an agreed future solution," said a Jordanstown spokesman.

A statement from the Ulster Council said the provincial body was "disappointed" with the Queen's decision.

"Comhairle Uladh can confirm that there were five players named on both the Queens University panel and a county panel, with the players being placed in an unfortunate position," added the Ulster statement.