Brief History

It is hard to believe that the Ulster Polytechnic opened in 1971 and the club was founded in 1973 and there were no Gaelic facilities of any kind at Jordanstown. In fact the authorities at the time ?…didn’t envisage the demand for Gaelic Games.? One can wonder what fool or bigot (probably both) wrote this and how wrong they could be.

We can only thank people like Jerry Reilly (Newry), Barney McGovern and Oliver Cassidy (Fermanagh), Paddy Farrell and Dessie McKenna (Tyrone) and John Duffy (Cavan) for having the foresight and the courage, against all the odds at that time to form a Gaelic Football Club. There were no playing or training facilities at Jordanstown so all games were played at Cherryvale in Belfast. Things were that well organised that a set of red and white hooped jerseys were purchased on our way to the first game against Queens in Division Two of the league, thankfully the Poly won!

The club struggled for the next couple of years until 1976 when we entered and won the All Ireland Freshers competition for the first time. Three years later in 1979, the same Freshers along with players like Jim McCartan (captain), Kevin McCabe, Mark Turley and James McAfee, captured the Division One league title, a division in which we have remained since.

However, it was in 1980 that our club claimed national fame by beating reigning Sigerson champions UCG in the Hodges & Fiddis Final played at Croke Park before the National Football League Quarter Final. Jim Mc Cartan (Down) captained the team. It was that year that the Poly appointed Sean Smith as manager and he is still associated with the place to this very day. It was in fact that year also that the club changed to the colours of Dublin (Navy and Sky blue), and John (Tommy- Joe)Farrell was appointed club secretary.

The Trench Cup was captured in 1983, while Fresher titles were been won on a regular basis. 1984/85 was one of the most important years in the clubs history. The Ulster Polytechnic became the University of Ulster at Jordanstown, however the name of ?the Poly? still exists nation-wide.

The following year saw the club win the Sigerson Cup by beating Cork in the Mardyke, becoming also the first club in modern times to win the Ryan/Sigerson Cup double, and went on to win the Ryan Cup (Division One League) three years on the trot, going unbeaten for 36 games. Padraig O’Neill (Armagh), DJ Kane (Down) and Dermot McNicholl (Derry) left the Poly with three Sigerson medals (DJ was co manager with his brother Val in the 1991 victory). The teams of 1986/87 were managed by Eamon Coleman and Charlie Sweeney.

Sigerson Champions 1987

Sigerson Champions 1987

Although we were successful at Fresher level we had to wait until 1991 when Noel Donnelly lifted the coveted trophy. We won the Ryan Cup again in 1995 under Eugene Young’s managerial eye. the 1997 season saw us become the only club to win Fresher Division 1 and 2 titles in one year.

It was a unique year in 1998, reaching the final of every competition we entered. Winning the Ryan Cup, Intermediate League, Freshers Division 1, Freshers Division 2, Ulster Freshers Sevens and Ulster Division Three competition hosted by Magee College. We were beaten in the final of the Division Three League after an impressive run to the final, we lost to Bellaghy in the Castlewellan Sevens final and to Tralee IT in the Sigerson decider.

It is impossible to write a Poly history without mentioning the many international trips which we have had. Teams from our establishment have travelled all over Ireland to England, Scotland also going on tour to Amsterdam, Belguim, Portugal, Moscow and Australia.

Gaelic being played on astroturf in Moscow (1992)

Gaelic being played on astroturf in Moscow (1992)

The club is now over 25 years old, having celebrated the silver jubilee with a fantastic weekend in Bundoran in Januray 1999. This occasion was also marked with the announcing of a UUJ all-star team.

In 1999/2000 the Ryan Cup was won for the sixth time, with the freshers beating UCD in an epic final after extra time. Plans are already in place for the 2000/2001 season with Ballinderry man Adrian McGuckin back at the helm assisted by Eugene Young, having also won the Castlewellan Sevens tournament.

Last season with ‘foot and mouth’ playing havoc most of the games were unplayed, with the Freshers unable to complete their tournament, with both the A and B teams qualified. However, the Sigerson was played though not as the traditional ‘weekend style’. It was a epic five game thriller beating Cork IT and Waterford IT both after extra time and two seperate long treks down to Munster. The next stop was Clones for a quarter Final meeting with NUI Galway. Nine points from Derry star Paddy Bradley saw ‘the Poly’ into the last four.

After beating UCC it was a final meeting with UCD in Scotstown. Jordanstown led 0-8 to 0-2 at the interval. In the second half a John Toal goal kept the Poly machine ahead. UCD make a brave comeback, but UUJ helpd on to win their fourth title, ten long years after their third. Captain Jimmy McGuinness from Donegal accpeted the ‘new Sigerson’ from CAO Chairman Des Cullinane.

From that small band of people in 1973 the Poly GFC has expanded itself into a huge, successful, well-organised club. There is camaraderie second to none anywhere, our graduates are now found in every facet of society and our influence not only in the UUJ but within the wider GAA community is set to continue.


NAME: Noel DonnellyCLUB: Drumquin (Tyrone)

Noel was the Sigerson winning captain from 1991, has played for Tyrone at all levels, winning U-21 medals in the early 90’s. He

came back from a serious rib injury in 1997 to score a cracking goal in the Ulster Championship against Derry.

CLUB: Newry Shamrocks (Down)

DJ has captained his county to and All-Ireland title in 1994. If that’s not enough, he has another All-Ireland medal from 1991. Holder of 3 Sigerson (1 as manager), 3 Ryan and Fresher medals, being assistant manager with the 1991 Sigerson Cup winning team. A Ulster Railway Cup player, an All-star and player manager of Newry Shamrocks. He is one of the Poly’s most famous ex-graduates and one of the greatest defenders the game has ever seen.

NAME: Enda Gormley
CLUB: Watty Graham’s, Glen (Derry)
OCCUPATION: Finance Company Representative

‘The Whale’ has been one of the most successful players to come through the Poly. Winner of 2 Ryan Cup, and 2 Sigerson medals, as well as a Freshers in 1985. Has been twice honoured as a Bank of Ireland All-Star, while has won honours at all levels with Derry and St Patrick’s, Maghera. Was very influential on the Derry team which lifted the All-Ireland title in 1993.


NAME: Ger Houlahan
CLUB: Pearse Ogs (Armagh)

‘Houlie’ was centre forward when the Poly first won Sigerson, in 1986, and was player of the tournament. He went on to become one of the great forwards of the modern game. He was voted player of the Ulster Championship in 1993, when he played six games as drew three game eventually falling in the semi-final replay to Donegal. In the same year he scored four goals one of which was awarded BBC ‘ goal of the championship’.

NAME: Sean Martin Lockhart
CLUB: Banagher (Derry)

‘Sean Marty’ like Dermot McNicholl is one of the great ‘MacRory’ player to make his mark also in Higher Education. At St Patrick’s Maghera he won two MacRory medals (one as captain), as well as Rannafast and Mageean medals. With UUJ he has won 2 Ryan Cups, 2 combined Sigerson, and was on the 1998 Sigerson team that were beaten by Tralee IT in the final. With Derry the medal haul continues Ulster U-21 Football and Hurling, All-Ireland U-21 football, 2 national leagues and an Ulster senior in 1998. The Banagher man has also been honoured as an All-Star, has been part on two international rules campaigns, being selected as player of the tournament on one occasion.

NAME: John McEntee
CLUB: Crossmaglen (Armagh)
OCCUPATION: Occupational Therapist

‘John Mac’ has had great career in college, county and of course club football, yet is is still in his early twenties. While a student at the Abbey he won a Corn nA nOg medal. During this period he was a Ulster minor winner with Armagh and later won Ulster U-21 honours. With UUJ he has 2 combined Sigerson, 2 Ryan Cups and was captain of the 1998 Sigerson team. In 1999 and 2000 he won back to back Ulster senior medals, making him one od the most successful players in Ulster. With his club, three All-Ireland, 3 Ulster, 4 Armagh SFC, 4 Armagh U-21 FC have been won, an amazing array of medals in anyone standards. John has a huge future in the game.

NAME: Dermot McNicholl
CLUB: John Mitchell’s, Glenullin (Derry)
OCCUPATION: Teacher in St Patrick’s, Maghera

Where does one start, like DJ Kane, ‘Spoofer’ has three Sigerson, Ryan and Fresher medals during his Poly years. All-Ireland senior winner in 1993, and captained his county to the 1983 minor title after playing in the 1980 and 1981 finals. Three NFL medals, two All-Star awards, Ulster U-21 medal, Railway Cup medals, played in the compromise rules series and went on to play Aussie Rules for Melbourne Demons for two years. Played in four MacRory Cup Finals, winning three medals. Assistant manager with two MacRory sides and one Hogan Cup winning side. He is now coaching Derry club Slaughtneil, where he helped them to two minor titles as well as two Ulster final appearances winning one of them.

NAME: Padraig O’Neill
CLUBS: Killeavy (Armagh), Cooley Kickham’s (Louth)
OCCUPATION: Engineer with Powerscreen

‘Bucket’ is the proud holder of 3 Sigerson, 3 Ryan, 1 Freshers medals. Played county football with both Louth and Armagh his brother Gareth (also a Poly Sigerson winner – 1991) was full-back and captain of the Louth team who won the All-Ireland ‘B’ championship. Padraig managed the Fresher team to an All-Ireland Final appearance in 1996. One of the great Poly men.


In a previous existence he was known as John Farrell, but all that changed when Jim McCartan and Brian Canavan persuaded him to take on the job as secretary of Jordanstown GAA Club back in 1981.
And the rest is history.

For this impish and articulate broth of a boy from Rostrevor is to Jordanstown what De Valera was to Fianna Fail, and the Ayatollah to the Iranians!

The Poly are only half dressed without this balding man in the cap, who can be often seen plucking daisies and playing for his alma matter.

He’ the Taoiseach, Duce, el Presidente who knows the Official Guide back ways and certainly one of the most able of the younger GAA administrators in the country.

It’s impossible to be neutral about Herr Farrell (ask Fr Michael O’Brien when Tommy Joe asked him for absolution at the Fitzgibbon ‘do’) as UCC bamboozled the Higher Education Council and took the trophy on stony silence. Or ask any of the officials from the other colleges who have been impaled by his pungent intellect, and his human ability to turn tragedy into farce with a neat quip.

And, as one who has crossed swords with TJ, I have always found him a worthy and witty opponent who doesn’t hold grudges even when we agree to disagree, which was quite often.

But, I have always admired his innate ability to simplify complex issues, infectious sense of humour, his humanity and the utter loyalty to the College that formed him.

And of course he agreed to pay me handsomely for this article!

But, on a more serious level, the Poly would not be a major force in Gaelic Football today without the oratory, charisma and administration skills of Farrell.

Those skills saw him serve as Chairman of the Higher Education Council from 1987-89, and he was a very proud man when he presented the Ryan Cup to DJ Kane after they robbed my old College UCG in the Ryan Cup Final that year.

One of his greatest achievements was steering the Poly into the Sigerson Cup against considerable opposition, and getting the HND students accepted as legitimate after the HEC barred them. And although the Poly sides of the mid 80’s are generally regarded as exceptional, Farrell, characteristically had no favourites.

“For me, any man who pulls on a Poly jersey is exceptional. It doesn’t matter what team he’s playing for. We’ve been lucky having the number of superb athletes passing through this place. And we have been very successful on the field but it is always a team effort. The college authorities have been very good to us but there is a great camaraderie here and we work very hard at getting things right”, he says.

A simple but effective philosophy from the man who regards his greatest achievement as masterminding the historic visit to Moscow. “It was a fantastic educational and social experience, a time of change and you get the sense of danger in Moscow but we were glad to be there when history was been made on a bigger scale also.”

Contrary to popular myth, he doesn’t really hate Queen’s but he loves beating them and argues that rivalry is mainly between supporters. “Queens and Poly players live in the same houses in Belfast, and you wouldn’t put a pig in some of them. I’ve been at parties in most of them (before I got marries) so I know. The rivalry is built up by some of the fans and sections of the media”, says the Public Health lecturer.

And, discretion prevents me from elaborating on the night himself, and Sean (Barney Rubble) Tracey used my hurling helmet as a sliothar and two brooms as hurley sticks in their earlier youth.

But, university football would be much poorer without the Poly Potentate, the real Taoiseach…..