This was a tight and keenly contested battle throughout and the type of game where a goal was always likely to have a decisive impact. UL struck at a decisive time when Bill Beckett, who won a Fitzgibbon Cup medal in 2009 with UCC, knifed through the centre of the defence and off-loaded to Kelly. He managed to get a shot away under pressure and the ball bounced off goalkeeper Darren McCarthy’s hurley and into the roof of the net. UCC’s retort consisted of a fine point by Dean Brosnan but it was not adequate to rescue this tie, consigning them to a deflating start to their campaign. Their prospects of making the knockout stages are still in good shape with a tie against DCU to come but it’s difficult now to see them securing a coveted home quarter-final.
In contrast this result injected a huge boost to UL’s aspirations as they managed to replicate last season’s quarter-final victory over UCC at the same venue. Kelly’s priceless strike came just 19 minutes after they had trailed by 0-13 to 0-6 and looked to be on course to succumb to an impressive UCC side.
However UL slowly chipped at UCC’s lead to plot their way back into contention. They were aided by a few brilliant defensive performances that provided a solid foundation for recovery. Limerick senior Seamus Hickey and captain Kieran Joyce were to the fore, while Clare’s Brendan Bugler was outstanding at centre-back.
Kieran Morris, who featured for the Tipperary U21s last season, led the scoring drive from his corner-forward berth. The Moycarkey-Borris player fired over four frees and registered a sublime effort from play in a 10-minute spell to leave UL trailing 0-14 to 0-12 with 12 minutes left. UL then drew level with midfielder Patrick Cronin splitting the posts in the 50th minute and Kelly tying the game a minute later with a neat score. UL wing-forward David Burke and UCC substitute Paul Haughney traded points before Kelly’s critical intervention saw the only green flag of the game raised.
It was a tough defeat for UCC to take. They contributed handsomely to a high-quality opening half that saw 10 points registered by the 13th minute as the teams were locked together at 0-5 apiece. Despite powerful displays by Bugler and Cronin in key areas, UL’s shooting betrayed their approach work as they chalked up five wides in that period as well.
In contrast UCC’s finishing carried greater accuracy and their slick play saw them prise open the UL defence to create point-scoring opportunities. William Egan was in fantastic form at left-half back, competently fulfilling his defensive duties and also booming over two massive long-range points. Shane Bourke and Darach Honan looked dangerous when supplied in attack and when Egan pointed a free from distance in first-half injury-time, UCC held a 0-9 to 0-6 advantage. UCC exploded from the blocks for the second half. Full-back Phillip O’Loughlin bedded down their challenge while the influence of Waterford senior Kevin Moran grew considerably at centre-back. They rifled over a series of fine points with Bourke, James Cassin and Daniel Kearney on target from play while Keehan split the posts from a placed ball. Despite playing into a stiff breeze, the style of UCC’s play and the momentum they generated appeared to signal that a victory was imminent. UL’s composure meant they never panicked as they picked off a series of points and Kelly’s late goal crowned a fine afternoon’s work.
Scorers for UL: K Morris 0-7 (five frees); P Kelly 1-2; D Burke 0-2; J Gallagher, P Cronin, M Boran, B Beckett 0-1 each.
UCC: K Keehan (three frees), W Egan (one free) 0-3 each; S Bourke, D Honan, D Brosnan 0-2 each; J Cassin, P Haughney (one free) 0-1 each.
UL: T Lowry (Tipperary); M Malone (Kilkenny), M Walsh (Kilkenny), S Hickey (Limerick); A Hogan (Tipperary), B Bugler (Clare), K Joyce (Kilkenny); P Cronin (Cork), J Gallagher (Tipperary); M Boran (Kilkenny), B Beckett (Kilkenny), D Burke (Galway); K Morris (Tipperary), P Kelly (Tipperary), M Heffernan (Tipperary).
Subs: P Murphy (Tipperary) for Boran (40), A Quinn (Clare) for Heffernan (50), B Carroll (Offaly) for Cronin (52), T Connors (Waterford) for Gallagher (56).
UCC: D McCarthy (Cork); C O’Sullivan (Cork), P O’Loughlin (Limerick), M Cahill (Tipperary); J Nagle (Cork), K Moran (Waterford), W Egan (Cork); D Kearney (Cork), P Mahony (Waterford); S Bourke (Tipperary), K Keehan (Galway), D Brosnan (Cork); D Honan (Clare), J Cassin (Kilkenny), G Mulcahy (Limerick.
Subs: P Haughney (Cork) for Mulcahy (41), L O’Farrell (Cork) for Cassin (49), S Harnedy (Cork) for Kearney (50).
Referee: John Sexton (Cork).