Of the four goalkeepers chasing selection at DCU, he simply wasn’t figuring.
On the eve of their Sigerson Cup opener away to Jordanstown, management gambled by handing the Boyle custodian the number 1 shirt. On Saturday afternoon, he handsomely repaid the faith shown in him.
Trailing by 1-8 to 1-7 deep in second-half stoppages, Niall Moyna’s outfit were awarded a game-saving free 45m from goal. Regular place-kicker Conor McHugh had been hauled ashore at half-time and substitute Brian Donnelly was sizing up the kick, but Lowe was having none of it. The goalkeeper scurried up the field, informing Donnelly this was his moment. The free was nervelessly slotted. Extra time.
Conor Dorman kicked a fine point from the most acute of angles to edge the champions in front early in the first period of extra time, but DCU minds, and, indeed, bodies were sharper – Steven O’Brien, Lowe (free) and Eoin O’Connor firing three on the hop at the other end. A contest that had ebbed and flowed for 70-odd minutes now appeared to be slipping from UCC.
From the re-start, Shaun Kiely touched possession down to the tireless David Culhane and off set the Ballylongford centre-back. Past four gold shirts he surged, Lowe powerless to keep out his low drive. Conor Daly and Kevin Davis swapped points in the ensuing passages of play, UCC ahead by 2-10 to 1-12 four minutes out. The mercury in the entertainment barometer could climb no higher.
Half-back Colm Begley was the sole member of the current DCU crop to have previously experienced Sigerson glory – the Laois footballer lining out at midfield in the 2012 final hammering of Maynooth. When Culhane netted UCC’s second major, Begley sensed this wouldn’t be their afternoon. He’d have to be content with his one medal.
Enter Donie Smith, the Boyle forward having spent much of the weekend in the shadow of his brother Enda who kicked 2-3 in the semi-final and added a further two points in the decider. Substitute Smith provided a superb equalising score, before Conor McGraynor, set up by the hugely effective Mickey Quinn, popped over the winner on 79 minutes. Luke Connolly — substituted a moment earlier — was re-introduced and presented with an opportunity to force further extra time, his free veering to the right and wide.
“The 2012 win was expected, we had an excellent team. This wasn’t expected,” said Begley. “This was a lot tougher then 2012, we went the hard way about it. The feeling after this one, after all those hard fought wins on the road, is amazing.
“You never want to think it is gone from you, but when the second goal went in you think to yourself this isn’t going to go our way. UCC are a team that don’t let you back into it easily and they didn’t let us back into it easily. We tried to go up the field several times to get a score.
“Donie Smith, we always talk about the strength of our panel and the guys that don’t start, he came on and slotted the ball over the bar in a pressure situation.
“That was a crucial score. If he missed that I think the game was gone from us. UCC wouldn’t have let us back and our legs were tired. Two games in two days is tough, fatigue was creeping in and they are a strong, physical side. To get that point and drive on from there was amazing.”
It wasn’t the first time they emerged from a sticky situation, mind.
“We have dug ourselves out of holes all year,” Begley smiled. “We went up and beat Jordanstown, then St Mary’s gave us an unbelievable battle on their patch that went to extra time. We’ve been doing that all year, we’ve done it again here.”
Tied at 0-5 apiece at the break, DCU appeared to make the decisive burst when Donal Wrynn fisted the opening goal of the contest on 41 minutes. The green flag followed a period of sustained UCC dominance where Billy Morgan’s charges squandered a host of chances – Tomás Clancy, Dorman and Paul Geaney most wasteful in front of goal.
Enda Smith kicked wide thereafter and DCU’s failure to move four clear left the door ajar. Luke Connolly (free) and a subdued Conor Cox reduced the gap, Alan O’Donovan’s goal on 57 minutes completing the overtaking manoeuvre.
The UCC rearguard, led by Clancy, Culhane and the excellent Padraig O’Connor, repelled the late bursts of Conor Moynagh and Mickey Quinn. As the clock spilled into time added on, Cox should have sealed the win from 25 metres. You’d have put your house on him scoring. He didn’t.
Step forward Tadgh Lowe – the gamble that paid off.
Scorers for DCU: D Wrynn (1-1), C McHugh (two frees), T Lowe (two frees), E Smith, E O’Connor 0-2, D Smith, C McGraynor, C Boyle, C Daly S O’Brien 0-1 each.
Scorers for UCC: A O’Donovan 1-1, C Cox 0-3 (one free), D Culhane 1-0, T Clancy, C Dorman, G O’Sullivan, L Connolly (one 45), K Davis, S Keane 0-1 each.
DCU: T Lowe (Roscommon); J Smith (Dublin), C Boyle (Monaghan), C Daly (Roscommon); C Moynagh (Cavan), D Ward (Monaghan), C Begley (Laois); S O’Brien (Tipperary), E O’Connor (Louth); C Meredith (Laois), D Wrynn (Leitrim), D O’Connor (Mayo); C McHugh (Dublin), C McGraynor (Wicklow), E Smith (Roscommon). Subs: D Smith (Roscommon) for McHugh, M Quinn (Longford) for Ward (both half-time), S Carey (Monaghan) for Meredith (54), B Donnelly (Louth) for Wrynn (54), S McCoy (Armagh) for E Smith (58), C Meredith (Laois) for Carey (61, black card), N Murphy (Sligo) for O’Connor (69), E Smith (Roscommon) for Connor (70), C McNally (Armagh) for E Smith (76).
UCC: M Martin (Cork); F McNamara (Kerry), J McGuire (Kerry), P O’Connor (Kerry); C Dorman (Cork), D Culhane (Kerry), T Clancy (Cork); S Kiely (Cork), G O’Sullivan (Kerry); B O’Driscoll (Cork), L Connolly (Cork), S Keane (Kerry); D Harrington (Cork), P Geaney (Kerry), C Cox (Kerry). Subs: A O’Donovan (Cork) for O’Driscoll (28, injured), E Ó Conchúir (Kerry) for O’Sullivan (50), K Davis (Cork) for Keane (54), S White (Cork) for O’Donovan (58, black card), J Davis (Cork) for McNamara (70), T Hickey (Kerry) for Connolly (78), L Connolly (Cork) for Geaney (80).
Referee: E Kinsella (Laois).