| 11.7°C Dublin

Divilly plotting DCU's downfall

GIVEN NUI Maynooth's historical religious connection, it's fitting that tomorrow it plays host to a footballing edition of that well-referenced Biblical yarn, David and Goliath.

The Kildare University host the Sigerson Cup weekend, which throws in tomorrow at 12.0, with the home side playing the part of David in the day's second semi-final.

For Goliath, read DCU, back in the hunt for top third-level honours after a somewhat surprising absence of four years.

Make no mistake, the assignment facing Maynooth tomorrow is daunting. Over the past decade or so DCU, by the design of Niall Moyna, have, in the eyes of close-following GAA people, become less of a college and more of a centre of excellence for football.


Last Wednesday they dethroned champions CIT -- themselves fielding a team containing seven players firmly in Conor Counihan's Cork plans and budding Kingdom prospect Barry John Walsh among others -- on a comprehensive scoreline of 0-15 to 0-9.

Four days later Moyna made 11 changes to that team and won the O'Byrne Cup, beating holders Louth by a point in the final last Sunday.

That teamsheet may have been a radically altered one from the previous Tuesday, but most of the names on show were established intercounty players.

It's a panel which could offer as many as seven to Pat Gilroy's Dublin squad this summer.

Westmeath full-back Kieran Gavin has been in imperious form this year, while brothers Damien and Brian Sheridan, Hugh McGrillen from Kildare and Sligo's stylish forward David Kelly are all blue-chip performers at this level.

Roscommon prodigy Donie Shine is back after suspension, too.

Shane O'Rourke (Meath) and Seánie Johnston (Cavan) are both eligible, though currently injured, and next year Moyna will have current fresher Michael Murphy (Donegal) available for selection.

Plus, Bryan Cullen's decision to return to his old alma mater provides the link to the Sigerson-winning side of 2006.

"They have 30 intercounty guys on their panel," notes Maynooth manager and former All-Ireland winner with Galway John Divilly.

"Every other college wants to be like DCU and have their facilities and players. They have all the top players and the top coaches.

"That's why all the top players want to go there. It's a benchmark for us.

"If we can stay with DCU, we've made serious progress in the past two years."

By comparison, the Maynooth team is a mish-mash of budding former underage intercounty players and senior wannabes.

They've been grazing on the lower slopes of third-level football competition of late, winning the Division 2 league title earlier this year, while their two 'household' names on their team sheet are Ger Brennan and Galway's Niall Coyne.

The former is back in the college to complete an MA after an absence of a year and his manager was delighted to see the powerfully built St Vincent's man darken the halls of Maynooth again.

"Ger Brennan is a top class defender and a great player with Dublin, and he will have a big impact this summer as well," praises Divilly.

"You need experience and you need guys who can handle themselves."

Outside of those two, there's Offaly man Nigel Dunne, who kicked 1-2 against Jordanstown in the quarter-final victory in Belfast -- a result which rightly qualifies as the shock of the tournament.

Louth U21 and Monaghan native Ger McArdle put in a Trojan shift in the middle of the park that day, as did former Meath minor Michael Newman, Cian Mullins of St Brigid's and Lucan's David Quinn (all three are on this year's Dublin U21 squad).

Still, the result was all the more remarkable given the manner in which it was achieved. Maynooth were away from home, went six points to no-score down after 17 minutes and lost talisman Brennan to a second yellow card just 10 minutes into the second half.

"It was like a championship match," reflects Divilly. "We knew the rewards would be great if we won. To play at home where you would have have a bit of support and familiarity was a huge motivation.

"None of our players have ever played at a Sigerson weekend before so there were huge incentives to get there. To beat Jordanstown away was a fantastic result and, probably, the highlight of a lot of our players' careers so far.

"We wouldn't have the established marquee names like a lot of colleges. It was a good shop window for them to get themselves out there."

Yet Divilly -- who is in his third year managing in Maynooth -- reckons it is a winning mentality honed over the past two years that has served them well.

Admittedly, their Freshers All- Ireland league and championship success of last year came in Division 2, but it has honed a competitive edge in Divilly's players.

"Despite the fact that we're not playing at a higher level all the time," explains Divilly, "these guys have gotten into a bit of a winning habit.

"If you're winning, there's a bit of confidence there."


After DCU's Sigerson success of 2006, a domination of the competition was feared in some quarters, but hasn't materialised -- yet.

Maynooth's sole win came back in 1976, when John O'Mahony's brother Stephen lifted the trophy, but there's plenty for those with an attraction to the underdog to shout about tomorrow.

The day's other semi-final will be contested between 19-time winners UCC and unfancied Athlone IT -- another surprise package at finals weekend.

"Ourselves and Athlone are probably the two teams trying to get in the way of a DCU/UCC final, which, on form and odds, is the obvious pairing," Divilly admits. "We'll be doing what we can to stop that and I know Athlone will be doing the same.

"You never take the field unless you believe you have a chance.

"We took great heart from the performance of Kilmurry-Ibrickane there at the weekend," adds Divilly.

"Pretty much, we're more or less similar to them."



Tomorrow, Maynooth North Campus (extra-time if necessary)

UCC v Athlone IT, 12.0. Ref: Gary McCormack (Dublin)

NUI Maynooth v DCU, 3.0. Ref: Patrick Fox (Westmeath)


Saturday, Leixlip GAA Club, Live TG4 (extra-time if necessary)

UCC/Athlone IT v NUI Maynooth/DCU. Ref: Marty Duffy (Sligo)