Solid UCC defending key to progress

THE hurlers of UCC had to draw on all their experience to get the better of a dogged Garda College in a dour Ulster Bank Fitzgibbon Cup first round clash at Templemore yesterday.

When coach Mark Landers sits down to analyse the result, he’ll point to his defence for digging out this victory. A two-point half-time lead (1-5 to 0-6), after playing with the aid of the strong wind and rain, didn’t look to be enough. But the entire back-line performed heroically in the face of incessant Garda pressure and, for that alone, UCC deserved their win.

“We knew coming up it wasn’t going to be easy,” said coach Landers. “But our defence was magnificent in the second-half in the face of constant pressure. While it was essentially a team effort, Shane O’Neill, Canice Hickey and Kevin Hartnett defied the best the Garda forwards had to offer and we’ll go to Galway for the quarter-final confident we can grind out another win.”

It wasn’t a day for fancy hurling, but both sides made light of the conditions to produce a tremendous contest which hung in the balance all through. The home side can consider themselves unlucky not to have forced extra-time. With just the minimum between the teams, they won a ‘65 but Mick Fitzgerald was off target and UCC were breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Despite playing into the wind and rain, Garda made an impressive start. Barry Moran’s two points had them in front after four minutes. Surprisingly, they were reduced to sporadic raids into the UCC defence for the remainder of the half as the UCC backs, marshalled by Shane O’Neill and captain Kevin Hartnett, took control.

Pa Cronin’s excellent free taking had the visitors on level terms after 10 minutes, but Barry Nugent was a constant threat for Garda at centre-forward and he knocked over two excellent points to restore his side’s advantage.

However, UCC’s hurling was sharper and they grabbed the game’s only goal in the 20th minute which was to prove crucial. A massive clearance from Shane O’Neill found Eoghan Murphy. The Cork senior panellist raced away before picking out the unmarked John Halbert and the former county minor billowed the Garda net from close range. That goal helped his side to a 1-5 to 0-6 interval lead and it didn’t look to be enough given the strength of the wind.

The home side wasted little time in cutting the deficit when Mick Fitzgerald landed a point just seconds into the second-half which set the scene for a gripping encounter. With Ian Delaney and Declan Tanner driving their side on, the men in blue laid siege to the UCC goal but Shane O’Neill, Canice Hickey and Kevin Hartnett rose to the challenge, shutting them out.

UCC had to be content with just the odd sally into the Garda defence but made them could on each occasion with John Halbert (two) and Pa Cronin (one) scoring points from frees, while Niall Moran hit another from play. And, with five minutes to go, the Cork students led by a goal, 1-10 to 0-10, and it could well have been two but Ger Hurley got back to take Stephen Moylan’s shot off the line.

Those closing minutes were played out in a welter of excitement as Garda threw everything at UCC in search of the winning scores. And there was still time left to save the game after Mick Fitzgerald and Barry Nugent reduced the deficit to the minimum with a point each. But the overworked UCC defence held firm for the narrowest of wins.

Scorers — UCC: J. Halbert 1-3 (0-3 frees); P. Cronin 0-4 (frees); G. O’Connor, J. Nagle, N. Moran 0-1 each.

Garda: B. Moran 0-4 (0-2 frees, 0-1 65); B. Nugent 0-4; M. Fitzgerald 0-2; K. Hooban, K. Connelly 0-1 each.

UCC: E. Martin; S. O’Neill, P. Murray, C. Hickey; S. Cronin, R. Foley, K. Hartnett; S. O’Sullivan, M. Cahill; P. Cronin, J. Nagle, N. Moran; J. Halbert, E. Murphy, G. O’Connor.

Sub:.S. Moylan for O’Sullivan.

GARDA: D. O’Dwyer; I. Delaney, D. Tanner, P. Flynn; C. MacCraith, V. Hurley, G. Hurley; J. Woodlock, C. McNamara; B. Moran, B. Nugent, K. Hooban; R. O’Meara, A. Owens, M. Fitzgerald.

Subs:D. Hickey for Hurley; K. Connelly for McNamara; P. McAvinue for Moran.

Referee, M. O’Connor (Limerick)

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