After showing promising form to top Group D, UL’s prospects looked favourable and they also had the added benefit of home advantage. But they needed to work hard and hold their nerve, particularly in the second half, to deliver the right result. UCD did not succumb easily and, inspired by the wonderful contribution of Tipperary senior Noel McGrath, they were in the mix until the finish.
In the closing quarter UCD peppered the UL goalmouth with a series of searching balls from sidelines or long-range frees by McGrath. The aerial prowess of Liam Rushe and Walter Walsh offered hope they could generate scores, yet UL’s defence, led by Michael Walsh, Seamus Hickey and Brendan Bugler held firm.
UCD’s shooting was awry on occasions and the deteriorating conditions also hampered their efforts. They failed to score in the last 14 minutes and after repelling their opponent’s attacks, UL sealed their semi-final spot when Shane Dooley popped over a free in injury-time.
UL will enter the finals weekend in Waterford in buoyant mood. They possess a team with serious talent and in the opening quarter they soared 0-7 to 0-3 clear. The return of new Offaly captain Dooley after he missed their opening win over UCC was a boost and he offered an extra dimension going forward as well as proving to be ultra-reliable from placed balls. Patrick Cronin, Bill Beckett and David Burke split the posts from distance as well to provide UL with a nice cushion.
Despite a rocky opening to the game, UCD ploughed on. McGrath had already shown flashes of genius, especially a marvellous sideline cut he pointed in the 11th minute, as he began to orchestrate play before half-time. His freetaking was also impeccable, firing five balls over Thomas Lowry’s crossbar in the period between the 20th and 30th minutes.
McGrath was supported by influential half-forwards John O’Loughlin and Rushe, while Óisin Gough and Neal Prendergast helped shore up the defence. The teams were tied 0-9 apiece at the interval and it was UCD who were more satisfied after their second quarter fightback.
Hurling into the wind in the second half, UL were forced to fight for the spoils. They did admirably. Between them Cronin and Burke managed to stifle McGrath’s impact from open play at midfield, while UL made a concerted effort to keep puckouts and defensive clearances away from the Loughmore-Castleiney man. Crucially they also moved Seamus Hickey to the half-back line to keep tabs on Rushe and he did not allow the Dublin senior to shine under the high ball.
UCD edged 0-11 to 0-10 ahead by the 38th minute courtesy of a McGrath brace before UCD engineered a critical scoring spree. Paul Kelly, Dooley (2) and Cronin all found their range in a six-minute time frame to send their team in front 0-14 to 0-11. With scores in limited supply in the closing half, that proved to be a pivotal burst by UL.
Scorers for UL: S Dooley 0-7 (0-4 frees, 0-1 ‘65); P Cronin, P Kelly 0-2 each; D Burke, B Beckett, A Quinn, K Morris 0-1 each.
N McGrath 0-10 (eight frees, one sideline); C Allis, L Rushe 0-1 each.
UL: T Lowry (Tipperary); M Malone (Kilkenny), M Walsh (Kilkenny), S Hickey (Limerick); P Stapleton (Tipperary), B Bugler (Clare), K Joyce (Kilkenny); D Burke (Galway), P Cronin (Cork); J Gallagher (Tipperary), B Beckett (Kilkenny), S Dooley (Offaly); K Morris (Tipperary), P Kelly (Tipperary), A Quinn (Clare).
Subs: PJ Delaney (Kilkenny) for Malone (36), T Connors (Waterford) for Gallagher (47), P Murphy (Tipperary) for Beckett (55), N O’Murchu (Waterford) for Morris (60).
J Ryan (Galway); J Doyle (Wexford), S Cummins (Kilkenny), O Gough (Dublin); S Norton (Kilkenny), N Prendergast (Kilkenny), E O’Shea (Kilkenny); N McGrath (Tipperary), D Fox (Galway); L Rushe (Dublin), J O’Loughlin (Laois), C Allis (Limerick); K Hogan (Kilkenny), W Walsh (Kilkenny), D O’Connor (Dublin).
Subs: J Foley (Wexford) for Allis (49), C Brennan (Kilkenny) for O’Loughlin (59).
Referee: Alan Kelly (Galway).