Mighty Mary I eyeing glory

Mary Immaculate 1-17 Waterford IT 1-15

Whatever happens in the final in Pearse Stadium later today Mary Immaculate have already created Fitzgibbon Cup history, the first team from the little Limerick college to reach this stage of the fabled college competition.

No-one can argue with their right to be there either because if ever a win was deserved this was it, a result chiselled from adversity. In a side that’s more blue-collar than star-studded two players stand out, their team captain and attack leader John Conlan, who scored the winning point for NUI Galway in the final three years ago, and magnificent centre-back Declan Hannon.

As the sides went toe-to-toe in the opening minutes yesterday both were already prominent. And then it happened. A reckless challenge by Hannon on WIT scoring star Eoin Murphy (the new Kilkenny keeper, incidentally) in the ninth minute resulted in a straight red card.

Their defensive leader gone, what chance now Mary I? Every chance, as it turned out.

“After you’ve had a player sent off, especially so early in a game, it’s very difficult to regroup,” said Eamon Cregan, the wise old owl overseeing the Mary I surge to glory. No, it wasn’t just me, says Eamon, it was also down to his sideline assistants. “Timmy Hammersley and Gavin O’Mahony, who are both inter-county players, were able to organise it and I think we managed to nullify their loose man at the back.”

Tipperary’s Eanna Hogan went into the middle, Niall O’Meara dropped back and Mary I never missed a beat. Immediately they took the fight to WIT and by the 19th minute had crept ahead, 0-4 to 0-3. Then came their goal, the magnificent Conlan with a ground strike after his first effort was saved.

That score lifted the Limerick college and by the 25th minute they had gone five points up. In the final minutes before the break, however, WIT made full use of the extra man and points from Waterford star Pauric Mahony (two), Eoin Murphy and Jake Dillon looked to be the beginning of the end for Mary I.

A point from Conlan just before the break however again gave them heart and they went in at half-time two points to the good, 1-7 to 0-8.

The question now though was could they hold on? Carnmore is a big pitch and everything was in place for WIT to take advantage of an overworked Mary I side. Again, however, the boys from Limerick hadn’t read the script. Four points in-a-row to start the second half, Conlan with two, half-forwards Brian O’Halloran and Sean Curran with one each. Murphy then opened WIT’s account but when Conlan added another brace for Mary I, putting them seven clear with only 15 minutes remaining, it looked to be all over.

Far from it. Over the next 12 minutes WIT took complete control, outscored a visibly tiring Mary I side 1-5 to 0-1 to tie the game on 1-14 apiece. But again Mary I defied those odds, none more defiant in a heroic defensive effort than the bustling O’Donnell. Backs-to-wall, game on the line, even as WIT came in waves in search of a winner, back they were hurled time and time again. Twice Luke O’Farrell pointed to edge Mary I in front but twice they were hauled back and the game still tied as we headed into injury-time.

Just short of ten minutes referee James McGrath played and for seven of them the teams were tied. Then came the first moment of glory, a free from deep inside his own half by second half Mary I sub Conor Cooney boomed over the bar. Seconds later, at the other end of the field, WIT’s Tomas Hamill looked primed to tie it again but his shot was blocked by who else? Robert O’Donnell and the mighty O’Farrell shot the insurance score.

“There’s unbelievable unity in these lads,” said an emotional O’Donnell.

“If you heard the speeches from Timmy and Gavin before we went out, if you heard the speech from Declan at half-time. He was the man who got us here and now we had to do this for him. We were under unbelievable pressure but teamwork got us through, every one of the lads playing for each other. The job isn’t finished yet though, one more game.”

Scorers for Mary I: J Conlan 1-9 (6fs), L O’Farrell 0-4, C Galvin, S Curran, B O’Halloran, C Cooney (f) 0-1 each.

Scorers for WIT: P Mahony 0-6 (4fs), M Sheedy 1-1, E Murphy 0-3 (1f), J Dillon 0-3; G O’Brien, M O’Neill (f) 0-1 each.

MARY IMMACULATE: S Nolan (Toomevara, Tipperary); C Fennessy (Clonlara, Clare), R O’Donnell (Pallasgreen, Limerick), A Ryan (Toomevara, Tipperary); E Hogan (Kilruane McDonaghs, Tipperary), D Hannon (Adare, Limerick), J Wall (Kilbrittain, Cork); K Fitzgerald (Passage East, Waterford), C Galvin (Clonlara, Clare); S Curran (Mullinahone, Tipperary), B O’Halloran (Clashmore, Waterford), N O’Meara (Kilruane McDonaghs, Tipperary); W Hickey (South Liberties, Limerick), J Conlon (Clonlara, Clare), L O’Farrell (Midleton, Cork).

Subs: C Cooney (St Thomas, Galway) for Fitzgerald (37), L Considine (Patrickswell, Limerick) for Hickey (57).

WATERFORD IT: S O’Keeffe (Ballygunner, Waterford); S O’Keeffe (Ballygunner, Waterford), L Lawlor (Fourmilewater, Waterford), N Connors (Passage East, Waterford); C Haugh (Lorrha-Dorrha, Tipperary), W Hutchinson (Ballygunner, Waterford), T Hamill (Killea, Tipperary); H Kehoe (Wexford), S Roche (Mount Sion, Waterford); Pauric Mahony (Ballygunner, Waterford), M Sheedy (Portroe, Tipperary), E Murphy (Glenmore, Kilkenny); M O’Neill (Mount Sion, Waterford), J Dillon (De La Salle, Waterford), G O’Brien (Roanmore, Waterford).

Subs: S Murphy (Oulart-the-Ballagh, Wexford) for Connors, (inj 26), A McGrath (Loughmore/Castleiney, Tipperary) for S O’Keeffe (inj 34), M Power (Piltown, Kilkenny) for Kehoe (49), M Gaffney (Dicksboro, Kilkenny) for O’Neill (60), L McGrath (Burgess, Tipperary) for Murphy (inj. 60).

Referee: J McGrath (Westmeath).

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