QUEEN'S University Belfast have followed through on their threat and officially pulled out of next month's McKenna Cup because of a dispute over player availability.
The university has argued that the official rules of the competition state that third-level colleges must get first call on players. They feel Ulster Council are not enforcing this rule strictly enough and say inter-county managers are holding the balance of power.
In a statement, Queen's alleged that "undue pressure" had been placed on students over the last two seasons to declare for their counties. Ulster Council met with all of their third-level representatives late last week and have also asked inter-county managers to try to find some compromise.
But Queen's feel the provincial body is not being hard-line enough in enforcing the rules which, they say, should give the colleges first preference on players. "At all times we have been open and available to negotiate with the county managers. We are disappointed that this openness has not been reciprocated by particular counties," the Queen's statement read.
Ulster's McKenna Cup was initially only open to inter-county teams but third-level teams have been allowed into it since 2003 and, since then, there have been intermittent squabbles over players. Tyrone were stripped of the 2007 title after fielding players already selected by universities but this was overturned on appeal.
Queen's lost all three of their McKenna Cup games last year with a weakened squad and manager Anthony McGrath said earlier this month that they would not be prepared to be in that position again.
"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," the Queen's statement said, adding that "the prospect of heavy losses would do little for morale and preparation ahead of the Sigerson Cup competition".
Jordanstown (UUJ) are also unhappy at losing five players to counties and Crossmaglen's All-Ireland club campaign but have confirmed they are staying in the competition.
Queen's were due to face Armagh on January 6, Down on January 13 and Cavan on January 16.