The adverse weather impacted on the spectacle but Saturday’s eagerly-awaited Fitzgibbon Cup final in the Mardyke concluded in a blaze of drama as UCC claimed a thrilling extra-time success as they celebrated the centenary of the competition in style on home soil.
A bumper attendance were treated to an absorbing contest as the neighbouring colleges clashed in a first all-Cork final.
The narrative of the game was penned by Cork IT for long stages as they bossed the exchanges with the triumvirate of Stephen White, Lorcan McLoughlin and Aidan Walsh, placing them on the brink of a momentous triumph as they led 0-11 to 0-8entering the last 10 minutes. However, UCC launched a remarkable recovery, underpinned by the scoring touch of substitutes Brian Hartnett, who followed in the footsteps of his brother Kevin who captained UCC to the 2009 title, and Dean Brosnan as they both goaled in a frenetic finale.
CIT pounded the UCC goalmouth in injury-time and in a madcap exchange a huge scrum developed on the 20-yard line, before the ball squirted through to Jamie Coughlan, who found the net after his first attempt had hit the post, to send the tie to extra-time.
"It was unbelievable trying to clear the ball as there were bodies everywhere going for it," reflected UCC’s John O’Callaghan afterwards. "We forgot about inside near the goal where Jamie Coughlan was and we should have covered it really. But we powered on in extra-time."
The extra-time exchanges provided terrific entertainment. UCC made an early burst with Stephen Moylan and Shane Bourke benefiting from improving weather conditions to loft over some beautiful points. They led at the midway mark of extra-time by 2-13 to 1-12 but CIT steadfastly refused to lie down.
A delightful flick by Paudie O’Sullivan created the opening for substitute Colm Casey to goal in the 71st minute and when Walsh split the posts in the 78th minute, it appeared as if these teams refused to be separated. However, Seamus Corry proved the last-gasp scoring hero for UCC when he landed a famous injury-time point.
"[Stephen] Moylan drew in the corner-back and I just slipped behind him," recalled the Ballymartle man. "I was calling for it all right but to be honest, he was a brave man to pass it to me. If I missed it, I’d have been shot. I don’t score many points so thank God it went over."
It was a tremendous triumph for UCC yet a gut-wrenching defeat for CIT, who lost last October’s Cork senior championship final to Carrigtwohill by a similar margin. They produced a performance defined by bravery and guts which looked set to propel them to a historic first success in normal time. UCC’s O’Callaghan was well placed to empathise with their opponents as he had been part of the CIT Fitzgibbon Cup set-up over the last few years.
"I played for them for a few years trying to win the Fitzgibbon and had a great time there. I couldn’t think about having played for CIT before the match if they won today I was going to get no medal. Paul O’Connor gave us a great speech on Thursday night and we were going to go through a wall to win it after that."
UCC’s victory was a reward for their persistence. The match was slipping away from them during the second half but with defenders Killian Murphy and William Egan in inspirational form, they stuck to their task.
The strength of UCC’s panel was another key factor. Corry came on to score the winning point and put in a vital shift at midfield. Hartnett showed the opportunism to whip a shot to the net that kick-started the revival in the 54th minute while, six minutes later, Brosnan rose to bat in UCC’s second goal.
The introduction of Robert White was also important as he provided a great focal point at full-forward for UCC. For manager Paul O’Connor it was another Fitzgibbon Cup triumph to cherish.
"Before the game people said it was the dream final and for us that’s the dream result. The end of normal time was incredible. It’s at times like that, you question why you get involved in sport. It’s not good for the heart.
"It does mean a lot to people like myself, John [Grainger] and NickyEnglish who’s down here for the weekend. It’s just fairytale stuff to win it down here on the 100th anniversary."
Scorers for UCC: Pauric Mahony 0-6 (6f), B Hartnett, D Brosnan 1-0 each, S Bourke 0-3, S Moylan 0-2, Philip Mahony, S Harnedy, B O’Sullivan, S Corry 0-1 each.
Scorers for Cork IT: J Coughlan 1-4 (0-4f), C Casey 1-0, J Cronin, D Drake, A Walsh 0-2 each, P Gould, M O’Sullivan, S White, T Quaid (1f) 0-1 each.
UCC: D McCarthy (Cork); S Maher (Tipperary), J O’Callaghan (Cork), K Murphy (Cork); J Barry (Tipperary), D Fives (Waterford), W Egan (Cork); B Murray (Cork), Philip Mahony (Waterford); S Harnedy (Cork), D McCormack (Tipperary), Pauric Mahony (Waterford); S Moylan (Cork), S Bourke (Tipperary), B O’Sullivan (Waterford).
Subs: S Corry (Cork) for Murray (h-t), R White (Cork) for Harnedy (47), B Hartnett (Cork) for O’Sullivan (47), D Brosnan (Cork) for McCormack (55), M Grace (Kilkenny) for Maher (inj, 76), Murray for Brosnan (80).
CORK IT: K Roche (Cork); B Withers (Cork), S McDonnell (Cork), E Keane (Cork); S White (Cork), L McLoughlin (Cork), P O’Connor (Clare); J Coughlan (Cork), M O’Sullivan (Cork); J Cronin (Cork), D Drake (Cork), P Gould (Cork); C Fennelly (Kilkenny), P O’Sullivan (Cork), T Quaid (Limerick).
Subs: A Walsh (Cork) for Quaid (28), C Casey (Cork) for Gould (45), N Kelly (Cork) for M O’Sullivan (55), S Daniels (Waterford) for Keane (65), Gould for Drake (67), M O’Sullivan for Cronin (70).
Referee: Brian Gavin (Offaly).