They did it in heart-stopping fashion with Clare’s precocious attacker John Conlon rifling over the winning point in the 82nd minute after a tremendous catch and offload by sub Shane Quinlan. It ended an energy-sapping two days of hurling for NUIG as they once more required the medium of extra-time to push over the finishing line in first place.
The manner of NUIG’s victory was sensational. For the opening two-thirds they looked bereft of ideas and their lethargy contributed to a low-key encounter in comparison to Friday’s fireworks spectacular against LIT in Dangan.
WIT’s methodical and controlled hurling generated a handsome lead of 1-11 to 0-5 by the 39th minute.
But NUIG’s stunning revival, largely underpinned by a brilliant goal by Caimin Morey, saw them reel WIT back in before an injury-time score by Seamus Hennessy tied the match at 1-11 apiece. In extra-time the teams stayed close to each other and consistently traded points, before Conlon popped up with the decisive shot.
For Galway senior John Lee, this was his last shot at Fitzgibbon Cup glory with NUIG as he is in the final year of his medicine degree and success after six years of trying was immensely satisfying.
“I’ve been here six years trying to win it, lost three semi-finals before this and one final. We were nine points down at one stage today and it looked impossible to get back. I was struggling myself to get into it but some of the lads showed unbelievable character. That’s the thing about this team and they’ve shown it all year.
“I’m delighted for Tony Regan (selector and former NUIG sports officer) as well, that was a big incentive for us today to win it, he’s given so much to hurling in NUIG. Whenever you go into the NUIG Sports Centre, he’d make you read the plaque listing past NUIG winning teams with the likes of Joe Connolly and Conor Hayes. It’s great Tony now finally has a reason to put us on it.”
Regan himself was simply delighted to see hurling in the college having a cause for cheer. “Hopefully it augurs well for Galway hurling as the last time we won the Fitzgibbon, Galway won the Liam McCarthy Cup. I see Galway hurling people around here with a smile on their faces and there hasn’t been much of that around there for a while.”
For WIT, this was a quite devastating experience. It was particularly rough justice for corner-forward Timmy Hammersley who cemented his place as the standout Fitzgibbon player this year with a 1-11 haul that brought his competition total to a whopping 3-57 from six games. Hammersley’s splendid finish to the net in the 29th minute helped WIT to a 1-7 to 0-4 interval lead and all around the field they hurled with greater authority in the opening half. NUIG could make little impression up front after a WIT rearguard brilliantly anchored by Shane Fives and Riche McCarthy, and Tipperary duo Ray McLoughney and Hammersley sparkled up front. That trend continued early in the second-half and NUIG’s wretched play looked set to leave their expectant home supporters disappointed.
But somehow NUIG roused themselves. The switch of Finian Coone to half-forward and John Lee to half-back worked as both players prospered in their new roles, and powered on by Seamus Hennessy, Barry Daly and Caimin Morey, they pegged WIT back. Morey’s 43rd minute goal was key, and a string of points by Coone, Hennessy and Conlon left the minimum between them at 1-11 to 1-10 in the 60th minute, before Hennessy popped up with the levelling score. Extra-time was a hugely exciting period with NUIG just edging 1-14 to 1-13 ahead by the midway mark.
But inspired by Hammersley, WIT looked to be close to victory with a 1-16 to 1-15 lead by the 77th minute. However after James O’Gorman tied it up, Conlon provided a dramatic winner for NUIG.
Scorers for NUI Galway: F Coone 0-9 (0-6f, 0-1 ‘65), C Morey 1-1, S Hennessy 0-3 (0-2f), J Conlon 0-2, B Daly, J O’Gorman 0-1 each.
Scorers for Waterford IT: T Hammersley 1-11 (0-10f), B O’Meara, R McLoughney 0-2 each, H Vaughan 0-1.
NUI GALWAY: D Tuohy (Clare); D Nash (Clare), J Lee (Galway), D Connolly (Galway); P Gordon (Galway), S Hennessy (Tipperary), P Kelly (Clare); B Daly (Galway), D O’Donovan (Clare); J Conlon (Clare), K Keehan (Galway), C O’Donovan (Clare); G Kelly (Galway), C Morey (Clare), F Coone (Galway).
Subs: JP O’Connell (Galway) for C O’Donovan (half-time), S Quinlan (Tipperary) for Keehan (half-time), J O’Gorman (Offaly) for Conlon (56), Conlon for G Kelly (60).
WATERFORD IT: A Power (Waterford); B Kenny (Galway), R McCarthy (Limerick), N Connors (Waterford); W Hutchinson (Waterford), S Fives (Waterford), PJ Rowe (Kilkenny); E Barrett (Clare), M Molloy (Wexford); F O’Leary (Cork), R McLoughney (Tipperary), R Good (Cork); T Hammersley (Tipperary), B O’Meara (Tipperary), K Grehan (Kilkenny).
Subs: K Reade (Tipperary) for Good (44), S Power (Waterford) for Grehan (54), W O’Dwyer (Tipperary) for Molloy (56), H Vaughan (Clare) for Power (60).
Referee: Diarmuid Kirwan (Cork).