It is Sigerson Cup finals weekend and the blue riband competition in Colleges football and again Donegal has strong interest in the finals weekend.
The Kilcar duo of Patrick McBrearty and Ryan McHugh are central players in the University of Ulster, Jordanstown line-up that face defending champions Dublin City University, in one of the semi-finals.
Caolan McGonagle from Buncrana, one of Rory Gallagher’s new recruits, has been a regular at midfield for DCU while Cian Mulligan (Gaoth Dobhair) and Philip O’Donnell (Glenswilly) are also in the DCU squad.
The Donegal connection with UUJ is further strengthened by former Donegal star Martin McHugh’s involvement as a member of the Belfast College’s management team,
UCD and University of Limerick are the other semi-finalists. This year’s Sigerson finals are being hosted by UUJ with the semi-finals tomorrow (Friday) and the final on Saturday.
Donegal has a long association with the Sigerson Cup. George Sigerson, a leading figure in the Gaelic Literary Revival in the 19th century, was born in Strabane in 1836 and received the early part of his education in Donegal, at the Letterkenny Academy.
John O’Donnell from Dungloe, in 1930 was the first Donegal Sigerson winner. John, one of Donegal’s leading footballers in the 1930s, was a member of the UCD team that defeated UCC in the 1930/31 final, which was played on December 6th, 1930. John won again in 1932.
Antoin Rodgers from Gaoth Dobhair was the next Donegal man to be part of a winning team. Antoin was a central figure in UCD’s back-to-back triumphs in 1948 and ‘49.
Brendan Dunleavy, with four winners’ medals, leads the Donegal Sigerson Cup honours list with Jim McGuinness next with three. The All-Ireland winning manager from 2012 also holds the distinction of captaining two different Colleges to Sigerson success (Tralee IT and UUJ).
St Michael’s Christy Toye, who is also a double winner, is the only other Donegal man to captain a Sigerson winning side. The St Michael’s ace captained Sligo to their 2005 Sigerson triumph over Queen’s University, Belfast.
Sylvester Maguire, Aodh Ruadh, and Paul Carr, St Eunan’s members of the 1992 All-Ireland winning team are also Sigerson Cup winners.
Paul won his with University College Galway, in 1983 and nine years later Sylvester was on board the UCG 1992 team that pulled off a shock win over QUB.
“Queen’s were a star studded side,” says Sylvester Maguire, who won the man of the match award from centre-half- forward in the ‘92 final.
“They had a squad of 35 players and 29 of them were county footballers. The cream of Ulster football at the time.
“Joe Brolly and James McCartan were the corner forwards; Anthony Tohill and Paul Brewster were in the middle of the field. They had Kieran McGeeney and Noel Donnelly in defence
“They were a serious side and raging hot favourites and it was myself and a crowd of young bucks. Diarmaid Keon, my own clubmate here in Ballyshannon; Gary Fahy, Sean Og de Paor and Niall Finnegan, who later went on to win All-Irelands with Galway, and Mark O’Connor from Cork were on the team.
“I played centre-half-forward and Diarmaid was at corner-back and he had a great game on Brolly. We won by three points and they had a chance to level with a last minute penalty but Noel Donnelly’s shot was palmed on to the post by our goalkeeper and Donnelly blasted the rebound wide.”
The 1992 finals were in Galway and it took extra-time to separate UCG and UUJ in the semi-final.
“The four teams that made it through to the finals that year were QUB, UUJ, St Mary’s and UCG.
“Queen’s were the raging hot favourites; UUJ would have been second favourites and we were third just ahead of St Mary’s.
“The Sigerson is a great competition. I really enjoyed playing in Sigerson and I have fond memories of my Sigerson playing days.
“Myself and Diarmaid (Keon) were the first Ballyshannon men to win Sigerson. I remember we checked it out at the time because there was chat that Martin Carney had won one and there was also talk that a man by the name of Alo O’Gorman, in the 1930s, won one.
“Martin played in five or six finals and was on the losing side in all the finals and Alo O’Gorman was also on a losing UCD in a final.”
Sylvester and St Eunan’s Paul Carr hold the distinction of the only Donegal men to win Sigerson as well as All-Ireland Senior and U-21 medals.