“I thought it was borderline unplayable, it was so soft,” said UCC manager Eddie Enright. “A great game in the circumstances.”
His Mary Immaculate counterpart, Eamon Cregan, accepted the criticism, then issued a plea. “The pitch was very poor but it’s the only pitch we have — if some wealthy benefactor wants to come forward and help us out we’d be more than grateful.”
And yet both sides made light of those conditions and served up a gripping, high-quality 60 minutes. That it ended in a tie was probably justice served, though it took a late, late goal from corner-forward Luke O’Farrell to rescue Mary I.
Each side had their periods of dominance, UCC getting off to the better start though facing the worst of the breeze, leading 1-6 to 0-5 after 18 minutes courtesy of Brian Hartnett’s 10th minute goal. Very prominent for the Cork college in this period (indeed all through the match) was midfielder Paul Haughney, while his Midleton team-mate Luke O’Farrell and Clare’s powerhouse John Conlon were doing the bulk of the scoring for Mary I.
The final 10 minutes of the half, however, belonged to the home side, five points without reply (one each from half-backs Declan Hannon and Jamie Wall, three from Conlon frees) putting them one ahead at the break, 0-10 to 1-6.
UCC were struggling and their barren spell would continue for another 10 minutes, during which time the now tails-up home side, roared on by a very partisan crowd, had added two more points against an overworked defence. Three points down, the reigning champions now had a mountain to climb. But with William Egan in outstanding form, Haughney continuing his heroics, Conor Lehane shifted outfield, not alone did UCC claw back that deficit, they then went three points ahead themselves, free-taker Brian Hartnett finally getting the measure of the difficult wind to notch three crucial points.
Conceding that late goal then was a blow but, said Eddie Enright, had they been offered a draw with 20 minutes to go, they’d have grabbed it.
Both teams remain unbeaten which is probably what was expected from UCC.
For Mary I, however, new territory, says Cregan. “We have a good team but it’s a question of belief. We were in the Ryan Cup last year so this is a big step-up, up against the big fellas, and so far we’ve held our own. We’re strong up the middle and John Conlon particularly is playing great stuff up front, Declan sweeping up at the back, a beautiful hurler. We’re happy enough with where we are but we have a big game coming up next Tuesday, against GMIT. That’s a game we have to win.”
Scorers for Mary Immaculate: J Conlon 0-8 (8f); L O’Farrell 1-2; D Hannon 0-2 (2f); J Wall 0-1.
Scorers for UCC: B Hartnett 1-5 (5f); P Haughney 0-3; C Lehane, B Murray, D McCormack, B Lawton, W Egan, 0-1 each.
MARY IMMACULATE: S Nolan (Tipperary); E Hogan (Tipperary), R O’Donnell (Limerick), C Fennessy (Clare); N O’Meara (Tipperary), D Hannon (Limerick), J Wall (Cork); K Fitzgerald (Waterford), L Considine (Limerick); C Galvin (Clare), W Hickey (Limerick), S Curran (Tipperary); B O’Halloran (Waterford), J Conlon (Clare), L O’Farrell (Cork).
Subs: M O’Connell (Limerick, Fitzgerald 45); D O’Carroll (Cork, Considine 57).
UCC: D McCarthy (Cork); K Ryan (Clare), D Glynn (Kilkenny), K Murphy (Cork); J Barry (Tipperary), W Egan (Cork), P Prendergast (Waterford); B Lawton (Cork), P Haughney (Cork); C Murphy (Cork), D McCormack (Tipperary), B Hartnett (Cork); B O’Sullivan (Waterford), B Murray (Cork), C Lehane (Cork).
Subs: A Breen (Limerick, C Murphy 43); S Harnedy (Cork, Murray 40); M Sugrue (Cork, McCormack 55).
Referee: A Kelly (Galway).