Fitzgerald return puts the wind in Críost Rí sails

CORK minor Paul Fitzgerald emerged as Coláiste Chríost Rí’s hero as the defending Corn Uí Mhuiri champions battled through to an all-Cork semi-final of the Munster colleges’ competition.

Withstanding a late St Brendan’s College comeback in the final 10 minutes of this rain-soaked provincial quarter-final at Knocknagree yesterday and overcoming very difficult playing conditions, Críost Rí laid the foundation for this victory in the first half with two goals in a four-minute burst.

With both Barry Madden and Alan Nolan netting inside the opening 14 minutes to push the Cork school into a 2-4 to 0-2 lead, St Brendan’s were in big trouble, with the wet and heavy conditions not suiting the Killarney side’s neat and tricky forwards, who struggled to get into the game.

Críost Rí trainer Aidan Moynihan explained: “Those goals were crucial but we were lucky that they missed the chances they had in the first half.

“Conditions were horrific, though it probably suited us more because we have a few guys who were stronger and St Brendan’s were light in the forwards.”

The second quarter saw Gavin Kelly (free) and Darragh Stack — after great work by Cathal Sheehan — narrow the gap at half time, 2-5 to 0-4, but St Brendan’s were guilty of wasting several scoring chances when they were on top, dropping five point attempts short, while Bryan O’Shea’s goal effort was well saved.

But with the impressive Paul Fitzgerald — playing his first game since returning from injury — a real force and leader around midfield in the second half, Cork minor Stephen Cronin composed at centre-back and corner-forwards Gordon Joyce and Barry Madden dangerous, Críost Rí remained in control.

Fitzgerald and St Brendan’s midfielder Kieran Murphy swapped points before superb work from Críost Rí wing-back Enda Dennehy, winning the ball in defence before bursting forward at pace, set up Barry Madden for his second goal, as Críost Rí moved 10 points clear, 3-6 to 0-5, with 10 minutes left.

But 2010 Munster champions St Brendan’s refused to lie down, applying serious pressure in the closing stages that yielded 1-3, while Jamie Spillane’s effort on goal was saved and Conor Keane’s shot was deflected wide.

A well-taken goal into the corner from Bryan O’Shea and points from Chris Lawlor, Cathal Sheehan and David O’Donoghue moved St Brendan’s to within four points of Críost Rí but it was all too late.

St Brendan’s trainer Kieran Herlihy said: “Conditions are a great leveller. All year long we were a team based on skill, movement and pace but we didn’t adapt to the conditions as quickly as Críost Rí did today.

“We left ourselves with too much of a gap and even though we had enough possession in the second half we didn’t utilise it. It was possibly too late when we got into the game.”

Scorers for Coláiste Chríost Rí: B Madden 2-0; A Nolan 1-0; G Joyce, P Fitzgerald 0-2 each; C Horgan (f), D O’Neill 0-1 each.

Scorers for St Brendan’s College, Killarney: B O’Shea 1-1; G O’Shea (f), G Kelly (f), K P Murphy (f), D Stack, C Lawlor, C Sheehan, D O’Donoghue 0-1 each.

COLÁISTE CHRÍOST RÍ: C Keane; TJ Murphy, I Lucey, B Wharton; E Dennehy, S Cronin, D O’Neill; P Fitzgerald, D Scannell; R Scully, A Nolan, P Kelleher; B Madden, C Horgan, G Joyce.

Sub: E O’Brien for B Wharton (ht).

ST BRENDAN’S COLLEGE, KILLARNEY: R Kelliher; D O’Keeffe, C Sheehan, B Lynch; D Osterloh, D O’Donoghue, D McCarthy; K P Murphy, C Lawlor; D Stack, B O’Shea, C Ó Lionard; G O’Shea, C Keane, G Kelly.

Subs: B O’Donoghue for C Ó Lionard (ht), J Aherne for D O’Keeffe (37), J Spillane for G Kelly (40), K I Murphy for B O’Donoghue (53).

Referee: Michael Meade (Limerick).

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