'Champions don't die easy, boy' - UCC retain Fitzgibbon Cup title with narrow win over IT Carlow

UCC 0-18 - 2-11 IT Carlow

The roar from somewhere deep inside the mass of bodies and giddiness in the post-match madness said it all.

UCC’s joint captains Paddy O'Loughlin and Eoghan Murphy lift the trophy. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
UCC’s joint captains Paddy O'Loughlin and Eoghan Murphy lift the trophy. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

“Champions don't die easy, boy,” went the cry. That this was delivered in a distinctive Cork lilt tells us that UCC had claimed a 40th Fitzgibbon Cup but it only laps at the shore in terms of just how close IT Carlow came to claiming their first.

The reigning champions sure did do it the hard way. Concede two goals in the first ten minutes in any final and you're likely to be in trouble. Have a man sent off when three points down with ten minutes to go and you're normally set for a world of hurt.

UCC shipped both such blows. They trailed DJ Carey's history-chasing side from the second minute to the 57th and yet they pulled through in the end. As was the case in their semi-final defeat of DCU, they had just the smallest of margins to spare.

You can't help but feel gutted for the losers, not just for the agonising manner of this defeat, but for the fact that they now have the unenviable distinction of having lost both the Sigerson and the Fitzgibbon deciders in the same year.

Underdogs coming in to this second date with destiny, they exploded into the game with the wind - gusty rather than gale force - at their backs and they fought like tigers in keeping the Munster side at bay for what seemed like an eternity thereafter.

In the end it wasn't enough. They lost Kilkenny's Liam Blanchfiield to injury in the first-half and they could ill afford the loss of a man with such qualities. That this substitution, enforced as it was, proved to be their only change all match told a story in itself.

Carlow's strategy was well signposted. Fourteen goals across their four games to date spoke volumes for the ruthless Kilkenny influence imbued into the side by manager Carey and his assistant Mick Dempsey who spent many's the year as Brian Cody's right-hand man.

Their first three-pointer took less than 90 seconds to arrive here and, like so much of the damage they would do across that opening quarter, it came via a long and early delivery right down the throats of the UCC defence.

 UCC’s Bill Sheehan, Andrew Casey, Robert Downey and Michael O'Halloran celebrate at the final whistle. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
UCC’s Bill Sheehan, Andrew Casey, Robert Downey and Michael O'Halloran celebrate at the final whistle. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

Seamus Casey got that one, leading a wagon train of chasing attackers and forwards towards the goal as the ball dropped to the turf. The Wexford attacker somehow had the space and the time to swing a leg at the sliotar and send it low to the net.

Not bad for a man whp was an injury douby before throw-in.

Five minutes later and the dose was doubled with Kilkenny's Blanchfield applying the gloss after another 'move' that owed everything to a similar simplicity. Blanchfield held his hamstring as he wheeled away though and wouldn't last the half.

Still, Carlow were motoring now, ahead by 2-2 to the Cork side's two points.

The pity for the Leinster side was that they began to rack up the wides and, with UCC slowly but surely coming to grips with the nature of the threat, it all added up to a 15-minute period in which Carey's side failed to score.

Cork's growing assuredness was showing in the increasing influence of Darragh Fitzgibbon in midfield but they were still being made fight for every break and every score. It made for a low-scoring half with the same nip-and-tuck scenario unfolding at the other end.

IT Carlow extended a four-point half-time lead to six within a handful of minutes on the restart but the rest of the period built to a crescendo like a suspenseful Hollywood thriller. You could see where it was going, the only question was if the clock would beat UCC to it.

They looked to be in trouble when Cork's Niall O'Leary saw red for a late swing at Carlow's Chris Nolan. Not so. Tom Kingston's side never missed a step. The next five points, and the lead with two minutes to go, were theirs before Carlow roused themselves for a late, desperate push.

Laois goalkeeper Enda Rowland fired in an injury-time free on goal that was deflected over the bar for a point and, when a last-ditch sideline ball flew high and wide of the posts, the game was done. Another great day for UCC. Another crushing low for Carlow.

Scorers for UCC: S Conway (0-9, 0-7 frees); S Kingston (0-4); D Fitzgibbon (0-2); M Kehoe and N Montgomery (both 0-1); P O'Loughlin (0-1 free).

Scorers for IT Carlow: S Casey (1-4, 0-4 frees); L Blanchfield (1-0); C Nolan (0-3); E Rowland (0-2 frees); J Kelly and S Bergin (0-1 each).

UCC: S Hurley (Cork); D Lowney (Cork), D Griffin (Cork), P Cadell (Tipperary); M Coleman (Cork), P O'Loughlin (Limerick), N O'Leary (Cork); K O'Dwyer (Tipperary), D Fitzgibbon (Cork); R O'Flynn (Cork), C Boylan (Limerick), S Conway (Kerry); R Downey (Cork), S Kingston (Cork), M Kehoe (Tipperary).

Subs: N Montgomery (Waterford) for O'Flynn (34); M Halloran (Cork) for Kehoe (37); B Sheehan (Kilkenny) for Boylan (53); A Casey (Waterford) for Fitzgibbon (61).

IT Carlow: E Rowland (Laois); S Reck (Wexford), S Downey (Laois), F Hayes (Tipperary); P Delaney (Laois), J Cleere (Kilkenny), N Brassil (Kilkenny); R Leahy (Kilkenny), L Scanlon (Kilkenny); M Harney (Waterford), C Dunbar (Wexford), S Bergin (Laois); C Nolan (Carlow), L Blanchfield (Kilkenny), S Casey (Wexford).

Subs: R Higgins (Wexford) for Blanchfield (20).

Referee: J Owen (Wexford).

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