Ger Cunningham’s charges, off the back of their shock defeat to NUIG, entered yesterday’s tie knowing nothing but victory would be sufficient in securing a quarter-final berth.
And when Cormac Murphy split the posts from deep inside his own half 40 seconds from the end of normal time to move UCC in front, the collective roar from the home crowd was deafening.
Murphy’s strike arrived against the backdrop of 14 UCC wides, a missed penalty, the squandering of three clear-cut goal opportunities and a first half where they had been completely outgunned, registering as they did just two points in the opening 21 minutes.
Now, as the clock spilled into time added on, the situation appeared rescued.
Enter Brian Stapleton. The UL wing-back was upended by Tom Devine, Jason Forde nailing the resulting free.
Murphy had one final opportunity to salvage victory, his long-range effort drifting right and wide.
“The damage was done last week up in Galway,” reflected Cunningham. “We left ourselves with a lot to do for this one.
“The performance wasn’t what we were hoping for. We didn’t play for the first 20 minutes.
“What is also disappointing is that we have very good players and we just didn’t see it today.”
UL manager Brian Lohan said very few teams have come away from the Mardyke with a result, his hurlers standing proudly as an exception to the rule.
“This is the mecca for Fitzgibbon Cup to come down here. Very rarely to teams get a result down here. We mightn’t have got the win, but we certainly got a result. We are absolutely delighted.”
The visitors were much the sharper in the opening exchanges, Tony Kelly and Jason Forde’s dominance at midfield the platform from which they surged into an early lead.
Conor Martin, set-up by PJ Scully, blasted the contest’s opening goal on eight minutes and UL’s advantage was further stretched courtesy of Tony Kelly (0-2) and Brian Stapleton.
Alan Cadogan and a subdued Conor Lehane posted UCC’s opening efforts, the home outfit rendered scoreless until the 13th minute.
UCC gradually arrived at the pace of proceedings, but were left frustrated by a litany of wasted goal opportunities. UL keeper Paul Maher produced an outstanding double save to deny Shane O’Keeffe and Tom Devine, while Jason Forde superbly blocked Shane O’Donnell’s attempted shot.
Trailing 1-7 to 0-5 at the break, the Cork university were thrown a lifeline when substitute Barry Lawton found the top left hand corner of Maher’s goal on 32 minutes. Parity was achieved through Lehane and Lawton (free), and although Maher was equal to John Power’s penalty drive, Cadogan twice moved UCC ahead.
Their inability to establish a sufficient lead while in the ascendancy in the final quarter, ultimately, proved their undoing.
B Lawton (1-3, 0-2 frees); A Cadogan (0-4); C Lehane (0-2); S O’Keeffe, J Power, P Prendergast, C Murphy, A Spillane (0-1 each).
C Martin (1-3, 0-3 frees); T Kelly (0-5); B Stapleton, PJ Scully, J Forde (0-1 free), K O’Brien, T Heffernan, J McGrath (0-1 each).
D O’Gorman (St Finbarr’s); K Burke (Midleton), D Glynn (Dicksboro), M Breen (Ballina); C Murphy (Mallow), T Bourke (Clashmore), P Prendergast (Lismore); R O’Shea (Carrigaline), T Devine (Modeligo); J Barron (Fourmilewater), S O’Keeffe (Blackrock), C Lehane (Midleton); J Power (Carrickshock), S O’Donnell (Eire Óg Ennis), A Cadogan (Douglas).
B Lawton (Castlemartyr) for O’Keeffe (HT), A Spillane (Castlelyons) for O’Shea (HT), B Hartnett for Spillane (55 mins).
P Maher (Moyne/Templetuohy); J Browne (Ballyea), B Troy (Emeralds), E Moriarty (Emeralds); D Quinn (Eire Óg Nenagh), J Forde (Silvermines), B Stapleton (Templederry Kenyons); T Kelly (Ballyea), B Maher (Kilsheelan); M Carmody (Patrickswell), C Martin (Emeralds), J McGrath (Loughmore-Castleiney); K O’Brien (Patrickswell), PJ Scully (Borris/Kilcotton), T Heffernan (Eire Og Nenagh).
A McGuane (Kilmaley) for Maher (41 mins), P Sheehan (Sixmilebridge) for Carmody (45), T Cleary (Kilruane McDonaghs) for O’Brien (57).
F Horgan (Tipperary).