By managing to survive a ferocious second-half onslaught from UL, UCC have ensured a final that bristles with potential and anticipation. Once UCC and Cork IT secured berths at the semi-final stage, and were stationed on opposite sides of the draw, the dream final pairing for the local hurling faithful became a genuine prospect.
Late points by Waterford duo Pauric Mahony and Brian O’Sullivan copper-fastened UCC’s triumph and sets up a tie that is likely to draw a huge crowd to The Mardyke today at 3pm.
“Any Cork fan has got his or her wish,” admitted UCC manager Paul O’Connor. “It was obviously the carrot for a lot of people before today. But we’ve got a lot of stuff to work on. It will be tough, we’ve taken four steps out of five and there’s one left.”
When Shane Bourke displayed splendid stick work to raise a white flag in the 43rd minute, UCC were 1-13 to 0-7 to the good and cruising to victory.
But UL roused themselves, with powerful defensive displays by Padraic Maher and Brendan Bugler igniting their challenge. Substitute Joe Gallagher shone upon his introduction, Johnny Coen and Bill Beckett became hugely involved, while the lynchpin of their attack, Conor McGrath, evaded the clutches of the UCC defence to feature on the scoreboard.
UL reeled off eight points without reply in a 14-minute period, while McGrath saw another point effort strike the upright.
Their attacks became incessant, yet Killian Murphy, James Barry and the outstanding William Egan helped UCC weather the storm. Brian O’Sullivan won a crucial free that Mahony registered for a point before O’Sullivan himself extended the gap to three and the final whistle was greeted with relief in the UCC camp.
It was a severe test of UCC’s capabilities and they displayed the necessary resilience to emerge with the spoils. Their first-half play had been excellent. They received an early boost when Darren McCarthy pulled off a brilliant block to deny Michael Heffernan a goal and then within minutes Pauric Mahony smashed a penalty to the net at the other end.
Mahony sparkled for UCC in the first half and registered 1-7 in that period. Egan and Darragh Fives provided the launch pad for several UCC attacks and UL were indebted to the heroics of goalkeeper Thomas Lowry. The Tipperary man stopped two goalbound efforts from Stephen Moylan but UL were then fortunate not to concede another penalty.
UCC maintained their high standards early in the second half with Egan, Bourke and Brian Murray striking to stretch their advantage to nine. But they ultimately needed to display serious grit to counter UL’s revival.
“If luck was on our side, we could have got four goals in the first half and the game could have been over at half-time,” reflected O’Connor. “It was like there was an invisible wall in the UL goal at times. But the tremendous save by Darren McCarthy at the start was so important. The second half was a wake-up call and hopefully we can use it to our benefit for the final.”
Scorers for UCC: Pauric Mahony 1-8 (1-0 pen, 0-4f, 0-2 65); B O’Sullivan, W Egan (0-1f), S Bourke 0-2 each; B Murray 0-1 (1 sl).
Scorers for UL: C McGrath 0-7 (3f); J Gallagher, B Beckett, J Coen 0-2 each; C Donnellan, D Butler 0-1 each.
UCC: D McCarthy (Cork); 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), B O’Sullivan (Waterford). Subs: D Brosnan (Cork) for Harnedy (47), B Hartnett (Cork) for Murray (57).
UL: T Lowry (Tipperary); P Stapleton (Tipperary), Michael Walsh (Kilkenny), C Fogarty (Kilkenny); L Ryan (Kilkenny), B Bugler (Clare), P Maher (Tipperary); L Markham (Clare), Martin Walsh (Kilkenny); J Coen (Galway), B Beckett (Kilkenny), C Donnellan (Galway); C McGrath (Clare), D Butler (Tipperary), M Heffernan (Tipperary). Subs: J Gallagher (Tipperary) for Donnellan, P Walsh (Kilkenny) for Martin Walsh (both h-t), J Regan (Galway) for Markham (44), R Cummins (Galway) for Butler (58).
Referee: Michael Wadding (Waterford).