The sight of the Westmeath goalkeeper’s head leaning back to follow the flight of another ball disappearing over his bar was the defining image of yesterday’s second semi-final which proved to be all but processional for Billy Morgan’s side.
AIT pushed the 20-time champions for the opening quarter, with James McGivney briefly raising hopes of an upset, but they fell away thereafter, unable to repeat the heroics that had seen off Carlow IT and CIT in earlier rounds.
UCC travelled to the Midlands knowing they would have to make do without Kerry forward Paul Geaney because of injury this weekend but his countyman, Conor Cox, top-scored with 10 points while Tipperary’s Conor Sweeney bagged 1-5.
An impressive haul, no doubt about it, but UCC were engaging in mere target practice by the end and Sweeney’s goal was typical given he dispatched the ball without the slightest suspicion of a marker.
No bad thing maybe, given they are back out at 3pm today for the final against DIT.
“We were expecting a really close battle,” said Cork’s Kevin O’Driscoll. “Coming to play the hosts at home with the crowd behind them, but it just seemed to happen for us on the day and everything came right.
“The same thing happened us against St Mary’s the last day. They got a goal and the next thing, we got the next five or six points on the trot. It just shows the character in the team.”
It also sets up a third final in four years for the college and O’Driscoll, Eoin O’Mahony, Peter Crowley, Jamie O’Sullivan, Niall Daly and JB Spillane all started in the one they won, against UUJ, in 2009.
So, too, did Mark Collins, who will be opposing them from the DIT ranks today and who lost a county final to UCC with Castlehaven in 2011 — but the tangled web of loyalties stretches westwards too.
Kerry’s Darran O’Sullivan will feature for the Dublin outfit, while his Glenbeigh/Glencar clubmate, Gavin O’Grady, will be in the far dressing room and it was the latter who kick-started UCC’s period of acceleration yesterday.
AIT were leading by 1-3 to 0-4 when O’Grady put the seal on a fluid team move by sending the ball over Connaughton’s bar. Morgan’s side added six more on the trot to leave them eight points to the good at the break.
It was a flow to which AIT had no answer, even if their exhortations were clearly audible in the UCC changing room at half time, and the hosts’ lack of depth and top-class competitors continued to tell on the restart.
Not that there weren’t some performances of note among them.
Westmeath’s Kieran Martin was superb throughout, the Maryland centre-forward roaming with intent and clipping over a quartet of points, while Galway’s Frank Burke and Tubberclair’s Alan Coffey were among the others to catch the eye.
UCC lack the household names of DIT but they carry serious Sigerson pedigree and they possess a spread of forwards that will offer a different test to a DCU side that depended too much on Michael Murphy against DIT.
And, while their forwards may have captured the imagination yesterday, their defence has been equally influential in getting this far. UUJ managed just nine points on them, St Mary’s 1-6 and now AIT a mere 1-9.
Mirror that today and they will have every chance of adding a 21st title to the college’s roll of honour and in the process make up for defeat in the 2010 decider and last year’s surprise semi-final slip against Maynooth.
The latter, in particular, continues to fuel their fires.
“We really felt after last year, we didn’t perform on the day,” said O’Driscoll. “We carried a lot of hurt onto this year. A lot of that panel are still here and we felt we had to make amends this year.
“This will drive us on a lot. This is my third final in four years. We’ve only won one — hopefully we can make it two tomorrow but we’ll take nothing for granted. DIT are a great side.”
It could make for an epic.
Scorers for UCC: C Cox 0-10 (7f), C Sweeney 1-5 (0-3f), L Connolly 0-2, G O’Grady, B Coughlan, P Acheson 0-1 each.
Scorers for AIT: K Martin 0-4 (1f), J McGivney 1-0, A Coffey, F Burke (1f) 0-2 each, C Shine 0-1.
UCC: S Mellet (Cork); P Galvin (Kerry), E O’Mahony (Cork), P Crowley (Kerry); J O’Sullivan (Cork), N Daly (Roscommon), T Clancy (Cork); P Acheson (Tipperary), JB Spillane (Kerry); K O’Driscoll (Cork), B Coughlan (Cork), L Connolly (Cork); G O’Grady (Kerry), C Cox (Kerry), C Sweeney (Tipperary).
Subs: D O’Sullivan (Kerry) for Coughlan (44); B Hewitt (Tipperary) for Cox (55); F McNamara (Kerry) for Crowley (55); P Murphy (Kerry) for Clancy (55).
AIT: G Connaughton (Westmeath); C O’Brien (Galway), K Clarke (Cavan), E Kerins (Galway); L Murphy (Cavan), T Rahill (Meath), J Dolan (Westmeath); C Duggan (Galway), G Egan (Westmeath); J McGivney (Longford), K Martin (Westmeath), P Masterson (Longford); A Stone (Westmeath), F Burke (Galway), A Coffey (Westmeath).
Subs: D Meleady for Kerins (30); C Shine for Duggan (30); A Caul for McGivney (53); C Duggan for O’Brien (56).
Referee: G McCormack (Dublin).