The bad news for NUIG is that the classy Des Dolan is out of the rest of the competition, after suffering a hamstring injury in the opening 15 minutes of this quarter-final clash, a period in which NUIG did the real damage, leaving UCC to play catch up for the rest of the contest.
The classy NUIG full-forward line were full of menace early on and there was just no holding the silken skills of Michael Meehan, Colm McFadden and Dolan, who were giving the UCC full-backline a torrid time. After just 20 seconds there was an indication of what was to come when UCC goalkeeper Cian Kelleher had to make one of his many terrific saves to keep Matt Clancy out. But once Dolan pointed NUIG ahead with a free, McFadden was then in quickly for a second minute goal after Rory Donnelly’s shot had been parried by Kelleher.
It was just the start UCC didn’t want, especially playing with the stiff breeze, and although two Conor Brosnan points brought them back into the game after the opening quarter, trailing 1-3 to 0-3, the hosts were still looking ragged despite having enough possession to trouble NUIG.
But it’s class that wins games and NUIG produced it in the 22nd minute when McFadden picked out the exciting Meehan. He turned corner-back Sean O’Brien before driving home an unstoppable shot to power the Galway side into a 2-3 to 0-3 lead. In fairness to UCC they battled away despite being rocked by those goals and while being outplayed at midfield, where Barry Cullinane and Lorcan Colleran ruled the roost, they got a great fillip just before the half-time whistle when Donncha Walsh put the industrious and positive Billy Sheehan in for a goal that left just three points between the sides at the break, 2-4 to 1-4.
The UCC bench must have been furious though for they had kicked a staggering 10 first-half wides, most of them from good positions, with NUIG most economical with just one.
UCC moved the hard working Galvin to midfield for the second-half and with Noel O’Donovan much happier at wing back, after earlier switching with Tom Kenny, there was more drive in the hosts. But after Meehan and Willie Morgan had exchanged quick points UCC were rocked again in the 34th minute when Cullinane’s long ball was finished to the net by Rory Donnelly after hesitancy by the UCC keeper.
So, leading 3-5 to 1-6 after the third quarter, NUIG seemed to be sitting pretty. But Conrad Murphy then entered the fray for UCC and with substitute Dylan Mehigan also making an impression NUIG felt the full force of a UCC comeback as they patiently began to whittle away their five point cushion.
Murphy quickly pointed, then Conor McCarthy, followed by Morgan and Sheehan and suddenly there was only a point between the sides and the crowd were on their toes.
Murphy scorned a great chance to tie up the scores when he missed a free but really it would have been hard justice on NUIG who steadied themselves again to finish in style.
Substitutes Michael Keane and Michael Dywer put an end to UCC’s brave bid with terrific points and just for good measure the exciting Meehan popped over a free.
Scorers for NUIG; M. Meehan 1-3 (0-2 frees), C. McFadden 1-1, R. Donnelly 1-0, D. Dolan (free), M. Clancy M. Keane, M. Dwyer 0-1 each.
UCC: B. Sheehan 1-2, C. Brosnan 0-3, W. Morgan (0-1 free) 0-2, D. Walsh, C. Murphy, C. McCarthy 0-1 each.
NUIG: D. Morris; C. Monaghan, R. Murray, D. Blake; D. Costello, J. Donoghue, C. O’Neill; B. Cullinane, L. Colleran; B. Colleran, M. Clancy, R. Donnelly; M. Meehan, D. Dolan, C. McFadden. Subs; M. Keane for Dolan, M. Dwyer for Donnelly.
UCC: C. Kelleher; E. Wiseman, R. O’Connor, S. O’Brien; D. O’Sullivan, N. O’Donovan, T. Kenny; K. O’Keeffe, K. McMahon; D. Walsh, P. Galvin, B. Sheehan; W. Morgan, C. Brosnan, C. McCarthy. Subs: D. Mehigan for Walsh, E. Kavanagh for Wiseman, C. Murphy for McMahon. M. Phelan for Galvin.
Referee: P. Russell (Tipperary)