As the hosts of this year’s finals weekend, the unspoken fear in the UCC camp beforehand was that they would end up organising an event they were not participating in.
But that prospect was dispelled with a powerful second-half display to stave off the determined challenge of UCD. With local third-level rivals Cork IT having secured their last four spot, the semi-final double-bill in the Mardyke on Friday week has a great chance of enticing a large crowd.
“I don’t know if the players felt pressure, but we certainly did,” laughed UCC manager Paul O’Connor.
“The management team and [John] Grainger were definitely under pressure. It would have been a nightmare scenario if we were hosting the finals weekend and weren’t in it. It’s going to give a lot of Cork hurling people a topic of conversation with ourselves and CIT involved. But there’s a lot of hurling to be done yet, LIT and UL will have a big say.”
UCD contributed handsomely to a cracking encounter, with the first-half particularly thrilling. There were 23 scores in the opening 30 minutes, which was a testament to the standard of attacking play on show, with UCD narrowly leading 2-8 to 0-13 at the break.
With captain Noel McGrath guiding their challenge from midfield UCD had a strong base to build on.
Defenders Diarmuid Nash and Conor Allis were in terrific form while Walter Walsh and Liam Rushe gave the UCC defence plenty to think about. Walsh assuredly raised UCD’s first green flag in the 18th minute and after creating that chance, Rushe turned finisher in the 29th minute when the Dublin senior found the net.
UCC had their own attacking stars to cherish in the first half. Shane Bourke, a Fitzgibbon Cup medal winner in 2009 with UCC, was in stunning form as he claimed six points from play. His effort in the 26th minute was the pick of the bunch when he caught a low ball at speed, turned and lofted over a great shot from distance. Despite trailing, there was still a positive mood in their dressing-room at the break.
“We were walking in at half-time and someone made the point that it’s rare that you see a team score 0-13 in the first half and still be behind,” reflected O’Connor.
“The quality of hurling was excellent from both teams, I thought Liam Rushe’s goal for UCD was a super strike. UCD were a very good team but I felt we were playing within ourselves. We came out in the second half and settled down.”
UCC initially had to cope with the concession of two quick points to UCD when McGrath and Allis registered. But between the 37th and 48th minutes, UCC outscored their opponents by 1-6 to 0-1 and devastating period was where they killed off this match as a contest. Pauric Mahony emerged a focal point for their attack while wing-backs James Barry and William Egan repelled any attacks UCD launched.
It was Bourke who fittingly raised UCC’s only green flag of the afternoon, belying the tight angle to find the bottom corner after a Pauric Mahony cross in the 48th minute.
UCC closed out the game successfully with Waterford senior Brian O’Sullivan, whose older brother David was sprung from the UCD bench, shining in a late substitute cameo as he grabbed a brace of points.
Scorers for UCC: S Bourke 1-6, Pauric Mahony 0-7 (5fs, 1 65), W Griffin 0-3 (2fs), S Harnedy, B O’Sullivan 0-2 each, S Moylan, D Brosnan, D McCormack 0-1.
Scorers for UCD: N McGrath 0-5fs, W Walsh 1-2, L Rushe 1-1, C Allis, G Sinnott, J Gilligan, C Kenny, D Plunkett 0-1 each.
UCC: D McCarthy (UCC); S Maher (Tipperary), J O’Callaghan (Cork), K Murphy (Cork); J Barry (Tipperary), D Fives (Waterford), W Egan (Cork); B Murray (Cork), Philip Mahony (Waterford); S Harnedy (Cork), D McCormack (Tipperary), Pauric Mahony (Waterford); S Moylan (Cork), S Bourke (Tipperary), W Griffin (Limerick).
Subs: B Hartnett (Cork) for Griffin (38), D Brosnan (Cork) for McCormack (38), B O’Sullivan (Waterford) for Harnedy (56), S Corry (Cork) for Murray (58).
UCD: J Ryan (Galway); D Nash (Clare), M O’Hanlon (Wexford), O Gough (Dublin); C Allis (Limerick), J Lyng (Kilkenny), S Norton (Kilkenny); J Gannon (Kilkenny), N McGrath (Tipperary); J Gilligan (Dublin), D Fox (Galway), G Sinnott (Wexford); W Walsh (Kilkenny), L Rushe (Dublin), D Plunkett (Dublin).
Subs: K O’Loughlin (Dublin) for Plunkett (40), D O’Sullivan (Waterford) for Gannon (50), C Kenny (Kilkenny) for Gilligan (56).
Referee: Alan Kelly (Galway).