Yesterday UCD were tested every which way by a talented Oulart-the-Ballagh side that came to Nowlan Park with serious intent. “Last year, winning the county championship was a big thing to us,” said Oulart full-back Martin Rossiter, who had a stormer.
“A few elder statesmen, the likes of Martin Storey, Liam Dunne, Paul Finn, it was nice to win it for them, but we have a lot of young lads on the team also, and it was nice to win it for ourselves too, we never knew that feeling. I thought we were just sort of happy, content, to get that far last year, but when we played James Stephens (they lost to the eventual All-Ireland champions by just six points), we saw that we could go the extra step, contend in Leinster, maybe win Leinster. The goal this year was to do that, get over the county championship first, then give Leinster a good go. I think we managed that today.”
Indeed they did. On a decent sod, the Wexford champions went toe to toe with the students from the first whistle and came within a whisker of causing a major shock.
UCD raced into an 0-4 to 0-1 lead in the first ten minutes, courtesy of points from Tipperary’s Pa Morrissey (two), Limerick’s Stephen Lucey and John O’Connor, former Wexford captain. Then came the only goal of the game, and a beauty it was, bringing Oulart-the-Ballagh right back into contention. A long centre was cleverly touched on by long-serving centre-forward Martin Storey, won in the right corner by Rory Jacob, whose sharply-hit low centre was doubled to the net by the onrushing Stephen Doyle.
It was level at the break, 0-6 to 1-3.
The second half was tit for tat all the way to the 58th minute, at which stage it was level, 0-12 to 1-9. In the face of some superb defence on both sides - Laurence Prendergast was magnificent for Oulart - scores were hard earned, and great credit must go then to the likes of Brian Phelan, Eamonn O’Gorman (a late call-up) and big Tommy Fitzgerald of UCD, to Des Mythen and Rory Jacob of Oulart-the-Ballagh, all of whom managed to score from play.
With minutes to go and the game in the balance, the character of this UCD team came to the fore. With their full-back line of Dara Walton, Mick Fitzgerald and Eddie Campion in suffocating form - plus Eamonn Ryan anchoring an outstanding all-Tipp half-back line that had senior county player Diarmuid Fitzgerald on one side, and U-21 star Colm Everard on the other - time after time they denied Oulart the score that would have seen the Wexford side take the lead for the first time, and perhaps given them the psychological edge.
Eventually, the siege was lifted and centre-forward Phelan was the main man, hitting two of UCD’s final three point for a hard-earned but well-merited win. It was hard luck on Oulart but a second Leinster final on the trot for the students - a chance for revenge against James Stephens, their conquerors last year.
“I suppose (that’s true),” agreed Diarmuid Fitzgerald; “but we’re just delighted to be back in the final, regardless of the opposition. Last year was disappointing for us, we were very poor in the first-half, came out and hurled reasonably well after the break. James Stephens are even better than they were last year though, that win gave them great confidence, a few of their individual players have improved an awful lot.
“The win will also have brought them tighter again, so we’ll definitely have to improve if we’re to have any chance.”
Perhaps, but they were well tested yesterday and came through in style. They may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but let there be no doubt about the club spirit of UCD. The Leinster final will be a serious match.
: UCD: P. Morrissey 0-4 (0-3 frees); B. Phelan 0-3; E. O’Gorman 0-3; T. Fitzgerald 0-2; J. O’Connor, B. Barry, S. Lucey, 0-1 each. Oulart-the-Ballagh: S. Doyle 1-3 (0-3 frees); D. Mythen 0-2; R. Jacob 0-2; W. Phelan, M. Jacob, 0-1 each.
: B. Campion (Laois); D. Walton (Tipperary), M. Fitzgerald (Cork), E. Campion (Kilkenny); D. Fitzgerald (Tipperary), E. Ryan (Tipperary), C. Everard (Tipperary); B. Barry (Kilkenny), S. Lucey (Limerick); P. Morrissey (Tipperary), B. Phelan (Waterford), E. O’Gorman (Kilkenny); T. Fitzgerald (Tipperary), J. O’Connor (Wexford), B. Murphy (Offaly).
: R. Barry (Wexford, for Murphy 41); B. Murphy (R. Barry 58); J. McCarthy (Limerick, for O’Connor 62).
: P. Dempsey; J. Roche, K. Rossiter, P. Roche; A. Kavanagh, L. Dunne, L. Prendergast; A. O’Leary, D. Stamp; M. Jacob, M. Storey, D. Mythen; R. Jacob, S. Doyle, W. Phelan.
: P. Finn (O’Leary 48). Blood sub: D. Morton (P. Roche 17/22).
: D. Connolly (Kilkenny).