In their 2008 battle at Cork IT, a two-point win propelled WIT forward and they subsequently proceeded to win the competition. Both sides carry survivors from that day, nine of that UCC team in line to feature today and seven of the WIT side. Yet, for UCC, that result still rankles as they were in strong contention all through and manager Paul O’Connor is hoping that defeat will provide the motivation for today’s tussle.
“That game last year was there for the taking and it’s unfortunate we couldn’t do it. It’s a big motivation for us going into this game. It’s 11 years since we’ve won the competition, which is a long time for UCC, and we’re hopeful the weekend will go well.”
UCC’s campaign to date has largely been defined by their blip in the group game against Cork IT and their stirring recovery since then. The loss to CIT was a grave disappointment and handed them the arduous task of travelling to NUI Galway last week for a quarter-final tie. At the interval the portents were not good as they trailed 1-10 to 1-5.
“Over the years Galway has been a hard place to get a result,” says O’Connor. “It was a big challenge, we were down at half-time, but I felt we were unlucky. The second-half didn’t start great, but we kept on hurling and the lads really rose to it. We’ve upped the intensity since the CIT game and it has paid off.”
WIT have also had to navigate roadblocks to reach this stage. Their season began inauspiciously with an opening day defeat to UL. A comfortable success over Dublin IT got them back on track, yet the gradient got steeper again when they were thrown into the bearpit away to Limerick IT.
“We’ve had some tough battles”, remarks WIT GAA Officer John O’Shea. “After the UL game we had to regroup, but the quarter-final looked difficult against LIT. It’s a very intimidating place to go to, with all the supporters nearly on the pitch, and we’ve a bit of a rivalry with them over the years.”
Yet WIT smashed the pre-match theories of a nailbiter with a 2-14 to 1-7 victory.
“We were slightly confident going into the game, but to produce that sort of a performance was fantastic. Everyone threw their shoulder to the wheel and we’re delighted now to be back in the finals.”
The manner of their respective quarter-final triumphs creates a sense of buoyancy in both camps at their chances. WIT may have lost some of last year’s stars, but the continued brilliance of TJ Reid, Stephen Lillis and Fintan O’Leary, allied to the emergence of Enda Barrett and Timmy Hammersley, has been critical to date.
The return of Kevin Hartnett is a big boost for UCC, yet has been offset by a doubt over full-back Darragh McSweeney who has a medial ligament problem. UCC’s defence remains their cornerstone with Shane O’Neill and Richie Foley in superb form, while they will need Shane Burke and Stephen Moylan to cut loose in attack again.
The teams appear well-matched and a narrative along the lines of last year’s tie could be in prospect. But UCC looked to have turned a corner last week and their motivation could edge it.