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When we think of January football, the Electric Ireland Sigerson Cup is the first thing that springs to mind.
While most other players are being put through their preseason paces, the GAA’s top young footballers are preparing to battle it out for All-Ireland honours and the opportunity to place themselves into a unique club.
The prestigious Electric Ireland Higher Education Championships kick off this weekend with a host of action taking place up and down the country. However, the stand out fixture goes down in the capital where a couple of heavyweight contenders, University College of Dublin (UCD) and Ulster University (UU), clash at UCD Billings Park.
The Electric Ireland Sigerson Cup represents an opportunity for footballers to put their county rivalries to one side for the good of the team, something very rare in the world of Gaelic Games. Ahead of this weekend’s box office clash, Pundit Arena caught up with two players who epitomise this laying down of the guard and coming together for the common goal.
Ruairi Gormley and Padraig McGrogan have a rivalry going back to their days with the Tyrone and Derry minor setups where they clashed on three occasions in 2017. Fast forward two years and both men were captains as the rival counties met in the Ulster U20 final.
Derry went into the game as reigning champions, but it was Tyrone and Gormley who came out victorious on the day.
However, once rivals, now friends as the pair have been teammates with Ulster University for the last two years. And friendship has afforded the pair an opportunity to look back upon their previous clashes in a more light-hearted way.
“We joke about it all the time but it’s all just banter, we’ve beaten them and they’ve beaten us, we’ve had our fair share of battles,” McGrogan told Pundit Arena.
Joking about it is something that is evident from talking to the former Tyrone captain who, in his recognisable Strabane brogue, claims that while the pair are “right and close”, there’s still the odd dig thrown.
“Me and Paudi would be right and close. We’d a good few battles with the county last year but you know yourself, once it comes to the university, we put that all to one side,” Gormley said.
“There’d be a bit of dirtiness here and there and the odd dig threw (laughs)… but nothing too serious.”
As teammates, they gained success winning last year’s Freshers league title, however, while their season proved a success, the university as a whole suffered when the Electric Ireland Sigerson Cup side fell to a shock defeat to Garda College in last year’s tournament.
Both Gormley and McGrogran, as well as a host of that Freshers side, have graduated to this year’s Sigerson team. The Tyrone man claims they’ve created a great bond from last year which he hopes can help the northern university this weekend against UCD.
They are a young side, but they still have some experienced campaigners like Gormley’s county brethren Michael McKernan and those seasoned players are warning UU’s youthful footballers of the pitfalls that lay ahead.
“There are lads from more or less every county in the province on the team and it’s great. Since last year from the Freshers team, we’ve boys from Antrim, Down, everywhere and when everybody comes together, they become best friends and it’s a good way to make friends.
“[It’s] a brilliant way of getting to know each other and you are getting to play alongside some of the best players in Ulster.”
“There’s a right few freshers that have come into the Sigerson side so we’ve a good bond from last year. There are older lads there who have experienced that defeat last year and are telling us what it feels like to get beat and letting things slip and that sort of thing.”
“We know what UCD are bringing, we know the calibre of players that they have. We’ve done a right bit of training though and we know what way we can go about the game. UCD are probably coming in as favourites and rightly so but we’ll take it just one game at a time and see what happens.”
Electric Ireland HE GAA Sigerson Cup Round 1: University College Dublin v Ulster University on Sunday, January 12 in Belfield at 2.15pm.
Electric Ireland’s Sigerson, Fitzgibbon and Higher Education Championship campaign, FirstClassRivals, showcases the unique trait of these historic GAA competitions that sees unexpected alliances form when fierce county rivals put aside their differences to play together, challenge together, and win together.
Electric Ireland is proud to support the Higher Education Championships and will live stream a selection of Fitzgibbon and Sigerson Cup games. Watch the games and follow the Championship at www.electricireland.ie/hec and be a part of the conversation on social media using the hashtag, #FirstClassRivals or visit @ElectricIreland on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.