The reigning champions were responsible for CIT’s exit over the past two seasons and it appeared they would continue to enjoy local supremacy when hitting 10 unanswered points midway through the second half to overturn a 1-13 to 0-7 deficit into a remarkable one-point lead eight minutes out.
Manager Pat Mulcahy had reflected earlier this week that while CIT had come agonisingly close on previous occasions, each time they had failed to cross the line. With said line now once more in sight, CIT had froze stiff well down the home stretch.
The demons of the 2012 final loss and last year’s quarter-final defeat now circled ominously over the Academy pitch at the Queen’s University GAA grounds. Further heartache lay in store, or so we thought.
CIT substitute Kevin O’Connor stemmed the tide with their first score in 20 minutes to tie proceedings and thereafter both sides traded blow-for-blow, local bragging rights and a place in the decider furiously sought. Conor Lehane and Alan Cadogan pointed for Eddie Enright’s side, John O’Dwyer and Kevin Hallissey responding in kind.
Level at 1-16 to 0-19 and with the sound of the hooter not far in the distance, John O’Dwyer nailed his eighth free of the contest to nudge the underdogs back into pole position. A late chance did fall UCC’s way but Jamie Barron was unable to steer the leather between the sticks. Glorious redemption.
Match-winner O’Dwyer, to no great surprise, cut a jubilant figure at the final whistle.
“UCC were going for three-in-a-row with a team full of inter-county stars. We mightn’t have too many inter-county stars but it is all about the team spirit. By God did we think we were going to win this coming up and we did. It is a great feeling and great to get the result,” he said.
CIT enjoyed the backing of the elements for the first half, though it was UCC who sprung sharper from the blocks — Lehane (0-2 frees), Cadogan and Cormac Murphy driving the favourites 0-4 to 0-2 in front.
CIT soon found their footing and, indeed, their assuming of power was as rapid as it was impressive. Pat Mulcahy’s troops nailed 1-7 on the bounce, six white flags from the stick of O’Dwyer central to this ultra productive spell, to leave the noose tightly clasped around UCC’s neck at the break. Kevin O’Connor teed-up John Cronin for the sole major of the contest on 28 minutes, the CIT captain dispatching clinically beyond keeper Darren McCarthy — 1-12 to 0-7 the interval difference.
The change of ends, however, would see a seismic shift in momentum with UCC producing the stylish brand of hurling which saw them arrive at the semi-final juncture unscathed and unbowed. Lehane was razor sharp from the placed ball, while their half-back line and midfield pairing, in particular James Barry and Paudie Prendergast, exerted noticeable influence.
In the end, O’Connor’s white flag immediately after Lehane had edged UCC in front proved crucial in the champions’ downfall.
Pat Mulcahy accepted had UCC gained a two-score advantage, it was game over for his outfit.
“We knew they would have their purple match and we knew as long we didn’t concede a goal we stood a great chance of holding out. As well as that, once they didn’t go two scores ahead of us I thought we always stood a chance, especially in the Fitzgibbon Cup where the margins are always so fine. Fair play to our lads they battled hard and came out on the right side.
“There was a breeze there and they did use that in the second half to come at us. They have a class team and that really showed.
When they got level we were under pressure, but to be honest I thought we struggled with the referee during the game. A few times he gave us an advantage, but there was no obvious advantage to us. I was confused by that.
“It was a victory and at the end of the day that is all that matters.
Scorers for CIT: J O’Dwyer 0-11 (0-8f); J Cronin 1-2; D Drake 0-2; K O’Connor, K Hallissey 0-1 each.
Scorers for UCC: C Lehane 0-11 (0-9f); S Harnedy, A Cadogan 0-2 each; P Sullivan, C Murphy, C Spillane, J Barron 0-1 each.
CIT (Cork unless stated): S Nyhan; S Murphy, A Dennehy, T Lawrence; M Ellis, E Keane, P Butler; M O’Sullivan, B Cooper; J O’Dwyer (Tipperary), J Cronin, C Hammersley (Tipperary); D Dooley, D Drake, J Coughlan.
Subs: Kevin O’Connor for Dooley (46), William Murphy for O’Sullivan (51), Kevin Hallissey for Coughlan (56).
UCC (Cork unless stated): D McCarthy; S Maher (Tipperary), D Glynn (Kilkenny), P O’Sullivan; J Barry (Tipperary), P Prendergast (Waterford), C Murphy; B Murray, J Barron; C Lehane, D McCormack (Tipperary), R O’Shea; W Griffin (Limerick), S Harnedy, A Cadogan.
Subs: Colm Spillane for Maher (35), Shane O’Donnell (Clare) for Griffin (45), Brian Lawton for McCormack (56).
Referee: A Kelly (Galway).