It was the best possible manner in which to achieve semi-final success for UCC. They kept the scoreboard ticking over regularly during the hour, had several standout performers and avoided a bruising test which could have sapped their energy reserves. They’ll have a healthy level of confidence that they can conclude a 15-year barren Sigerson Cup spell in this afternoon’s final.
Their beleaguered opponents Athlone IT displayed a rich vein of form entering this encounter but this display betrayed the fine approach work of recent weeks. They struggled to cope with the dynamism of UCC’s play while their attack looked bereft of ideas when in possession.
It wasn’t difficult to pinpoint the critical phase of the game. Edging towards the interval UCC were in a commanding position leading 0-7 to 0-3 when the half finished in a blaze of action as the teams conjured up a spate of goal chances. The key difference was that Athlone IT were profligate with their openings while UCC were in clinical form. Twice Athlone IT had the UCC net in their sights, but Ken O’Halloran produced magnificent blocks to deny David Egan in the 26th minute and Paul Doherty in the 29th minute.
Salt was applied to Athlone IT’s wounds by the fact that UCC strode upfield in between to raise the game’s solitary green flag. The goal encapsulated all that was impressive about the Cork outfit’s play on the day. The move began with O’Halloran in goal before he released to David Limrick in the right corner. With the Athlone IT attack pressing hard, UCC looked set to yield a turnover but Limerick and Kevin O’Driscoll brilliantly manoeuvred a route forward. From there the Michael Shields, Sean Kiely and David Kearney kept the move going before finally it was the unlikely figure of corner-back Shane Enright who calmly slotted to the net.
Athlone IT’s ploy of playing a third midfielder enabled Enright to roam forward and he revelled in the role in the opening half. His strike ensured UCC led 1-7 to 0-4 at the break and they were able to reflect on a powerful display at the midway mark. Midfielder John Buckley and Michael Shields continued to hit the high notes in their football, adorning all their industry with some fantastic long-range points as well. Defenders Eoin Cotter and Eoin Hegarty excelled in policing Athlone IT dangermen Ray Galligan and John Reynolds – both attackers were withdrawn before the finish. Elsewhere Seamus Hayes was a brilliant target man at full-forward while Kevin O’Driscoll’s great work ethic gave UCC a major foothold on the right flank.
Athlone IT needed a lightning scoring spree at the start of the second-half to vault back into contention but UCC’s composure and intelligence when in possession ensured that was never likely to happen. David Egan and Frank Burke tried to inspire the Westmeath college, and Burke flashed over a point straight after the interval that raised the hopes of their supporters.
But UCC’s clinical edge surfaced again as points by Hayes and a Barry O’Driscoll brace stretched their lead to 1-10 to 0-6. Matters got worse for Athlone IT entering the final quarter when Paul Doherty was shown a red card for an altercation with O’Driscoll. The match was done as a contest by then and UCC utilised their bench late on to rest several players. A flurry of late points by Hayes, Shields and O’Driscoll left them worthy winners at the finish.
“We won by finishing pulling up to be honest,” admitted UCC selector John Corcoran. “We played well and got off to a good start by getting a few points. Then the goal before half-time was crucial. There are not too many corner-backs who score goals but Shane took it very well. Ken O’Halloran made some tremendous saves as well which was key. We have been building steadily all through the season but the key thing was that we just took it one game at a time. We’ve taken four out of the five steps we needed and there’ll be one more in the final now.”
Scorers for UCC: B O’Driscoll 0-5 (0-4f), S Enright 1-0, S Hayes 0-3, J Buckley, M Shields, D Casey (0-1f) 0-2 each, D Goold 0-1.
Scorers for Athlone IT: F Burke 0-3, R Galligan 0-2 (0-1f, 0-1 ‘45), D Reilly, D Egan 0-1 each.
UCC: K O’Halloran (Cork); E Cotter (Cork), E Hegarty (Cork), S Enright (Kerry); D Limrick (Cork), A Greaney (Kerry), P Corrigan (Limerick); M Shields (Cork), J Buckley (Kerry); K O’Driscoll (Cork), S Kiely (Cork), D Casey (Kerry); B O’Driscoll (Cork), S Hayes (Cork), D Kearney (Cork).
Subs: D Goold (Cork) for Kiely (50), M Collins (Cork) for Casey (50), P Honohan (Cork) for Hayes (50), D Óg O’Donovan (Cork) for Greaney (55), B Shanahan (Cork) for Corrigan (55).
ATHLONE IT: G Connaughton (Westmeath); S Higgins (Roscommon), D Masterson (Longford), James Reynolds (Westmeath); M Mitchell (Offaly), K Smyth (Longford), D Reilly (Galway); G Dennigan (Longford), B Connors (Offaly); P Doherty (Mayo), D Egan (Offaly), C Blake (Galway); F Burke (Galway), John Reynolds (Offaly), R Galligan (Cavan).
Subs: N Judge (Sligo) for Galligan (44), P Bannon (Westmeath) for John Reynolds (48), F Reilly (Westmeath) for Higgins (53), D Cash (Kildare) for Egan (58).
Referee: Gary McCormack (Dublin)