Stemming from Pat Mulcahy’s appointment in January of 2011, Cork IT have established themselves as a permanent fixture at the top table of third-level hurling. On only one occasion in the past four years have they been absent from the finals weekend. The finish line is unbreached, though — they’ve yet to breast the tape in February.
In his maiden season at the helm, Mulcahy’s side were edged out by eventual champions UL in the semi-final. 2012 brought extra-time heartache at the hands of neighbours UCC in the decider, the Western Road nursery inflicting further pain the following spring at the quarter-final juncture.
Last February, a corner was turned in their hunt for the college’s maiden Fitzgibbon crown — UCC downed in the penultimate round. Failure to reproduce a similar effort 24-hours later, though, ensured the wait would extend into 2015.
“We don’t hark to the past, we look to the future,” Mulcahy insisted this week. “There is nothing to be gained from getting caught up on what might have been over the last couple of years.
“We know there are massive parts of that game [the 2014 final loss to WIT] we can improve on. We don’t use that as a blueprint in any way shape or form for this year. Lads go through college quite quickly, it is not like a club where you have the same bunch of players from one year to the next. This year’s team is quite different to last year’s team. We started with a fresh slate in September.
“To get to the weekend is a great experience. It is what every third-level hurler aspires to. Once there, you need a bit of luck to win it. We haven’t had that and we’re hoping luck will be on our side this time around.”
He added: “We have a huge belief in our guys. We are confident they can and will deliver. We have worked very hard to get to this weekend.
“We have enjoyed the last couple of months and are looking forward to making it all count now.”
Six of last year’s starting team — Stephen Nyhan, Padraig Butler, David Drake, Dan Dooley, Michael O’Sullivan and Eoin Keane — have since moved on to pastures new. Travelling in the opposite direction is Aidan Walsh — lining out at left half-forward in their run to the semis.
This time last year, Mark Ellis and John O’Dwyer were far from household names on the inter-county scene. Their exploits during the finals weekend would catapult them onto the starting teams of Jimmy Barry-Murphy and Eamon O’Shea respectively.
Mulcahy saw little of either until last month, but appreciates their worth on a weekend such as this.
“Both lads are more mature as hurlers a year on. It is in terms of big-game experience where they will come to the fore.
“Where you get caught is that if you have a lad just starting out at inter-county level, he can give his time to the Fitzgibbon. With Mark, John and Aidan [Walsh], they came into us after a very long year. We gave them a lot of time off before Christmas because of what they had come through. You have to mind these lads. We didn’t have a huge amount of time with them which is a disadvantage, but they do bring that big-game experience. It is what you need at the weekend. I expect these lads to go above and beyond the call of duty over the two days.”
O’Dwyer and fellow Tipp native Conor Hammersley aside, Cork IT’s starting XV is again dominated by Cork figures.
“Pat Ralph (Tipperary) and PJ O’Keefe (Waterford) aside, it is an all-Cork panel,” added Mulcahy. “It does help. The great thing with the Tipperary lads coming in is that they bring a different flavour. They bring different ideas. We do have a strong Cork base and the lads would know each other very well outside of hurling. That friendship and trust is crucial at college level. If you have that, it will take you a long way in the Fitzgibbon Cup.
“There does seem to have been a seamless turnover of players. The lads that have stepped in have done so confidently and competently. Aidan is obviously a huge asset to us. We have a pretty mature bunch of lads.”
Mature perhaps, but is the hunger present to ensure 2015 is not another near-miss, another hard luck story.
“Hunger has never been a problem with our lads. They are an incredibly genuine group, probably the most genuine group of people I have come across in terms of their attitude and application.
“This weekend is what it is all about. We are there. We have a massive obstacle in front of us on Friday. But it is a great chance for us. We are going to enjoy it and we won’t allow outside pressure to deliver a first Fitzgibbon to the college hinder our hurling.”
— Cork IT v Waterford IT, Moylish (F Horgan, Tipperary), 1pm:
WIT recorded a five-point win when these two sides clashed in last year’s decider and while manager Colm Bonnar can no longer call on the services of Kilkenny’s Eoin Murphy, Waterford’s Austin Gleeson has been welcomed into the fold — the Déise hurler experimented at full-forward in Tuesday’s quarter-final win over DIT.
Aidan Walsh has returned to CIT and, John O’Dwyer aside, stands as their most consistent performer in 2015. Cork centre-back Mark Ellis anchors their defensive effort, while the half-forward trio of Bill Cooper (an injury concern), John Cronin and Walsh is arguably their strongest line.
WIT’s forward unit has enjoyed a rich vein of form in recent outings, shooting 1-18 against DIT, 6-36 against Maynooth and 3-13 at the expense of IT Carlow.
Pauric Mahony represents the fulcrum of their attack, but as Mary Immaculate showed, if the centre-forward can be held, WIT will struggle to post a winning tally.
CIT, buoyed by the return from injury of Jamie Coughlan, will be determined to exact revenge and may have the edge, given WIT are returning to the field for the second time in four days.
— Limerick IT v University of Limerick, Moylish (J McGrath, Westmeath), 2.45pm: A repeat of last year’s quarter-final, where LIT scored a shock 2-16 to 1-13 win over their Limerick rivals. Tony Kelly proved the difference on that occasion, shooting 1-10 for Davy Fitzgerald’s outfit, but the 2013 hurler of the year will line out in UL colours this afternoon. Kelly and Clare team-mate David McInerney missed the quarter-final win over UCD with hamstring injuries and while Kelly is expected to start, concerns continue to hang over McInerney.
Alan Dempsey will be absent for the home outfit following his straight red card in Tuesday’s quarter-final and it remains to be seen what effects LIT’s taxing schedule will have on their semi-final endeavours.
David Reidy and Paul Flaherty contributed 1-11 of their 1-15 tally last time out — the two players who require closest attention this afternoon.
Brian Lohan’s UL is a far more balanced outfit, with John McGrath, Jason Forde, Conor Martin, Tommy Heffernan and Brian Stapleton most impressive en route to the penultimate round. Revenge for 2014 will be top of their agenda and atonement should be achieved shortly before 2.30pm.
— Eoghan Cormican