Austin Gleeson had spent much of WIT’s Fitzgibbon Cup campaign operating within the shadow of county teammate Pauric Mahony. Yesterday afternoon he stepped centre-stage to keep alive their title defence.
Waterford centre-forward Mahony notched 1-41 en route to the penultimate round, including a remarkable 1-18 in their group win over Maynooth, and was rightly labelled the man to watch in the first of the afternoon’s semis.
Gleeson, meanwhile, lined out at left corner-forward and hinted at the havoc he would later wreak when blasting to the net on three minutes, but referee Fergal Horgan disallowed the goal for over-carrying.
Trailing by 0-7 to 0-5 approaching the interval and aided by the elements, WIT were desperate to at least gain parity by the break. The 2013 All-Ireland minor medallist nailed his first point from play on 24 minutes and tied matters in the subsequent action with a sublime sideline cut.
CIT, led by Stephen Murphy and Mark Ellis in defence, enjoyed near-total dominance on the change of ends – John O’Dwyer, John Cronin, Cian Buckley and Aidan Walsh hitting four points on the hop to move Pat Mulcahy’s side 0-11 to 0-7 clear. The contest, and their Fitzgibbon crown, were slipping from WIT’s grasp. Enter Gleeson.
The Mount Sion hurler struck a superb point while falling over the sideline to narrow the gap and the teams were level for a sixth time on 43 minutes when Gleeson plucked Martin O’Neill’s delivery from the clouds, turned and swatted the sliotar past CIT keeper Gary Minihane.
Stalemate would ensue throughout a tense final quarter. Four WIT points courtesy of Gavin O’Brien, Mahony (0-2 frees) and Jake Dillon were cancelled out by Cooper (0-2), Walsh and Buckley. To extra-time we went.
A subdued John O’Dwyer sniped two placed ball efforts to open up a decisive CIT lead – it had been 25 minutes since more than a puck of the ball divided the pair. Bubbles was unable to make it three on the hop thereafter and Waterford seized on the let-up.
Mahony, Gleeson and O’Brien – easily their three strongest performers – overturned their opponents’ advantage and the champions had one eye on the decider when Gleeson pilfered his fifth white flag on 73 minutes.
Daire Lordan (free) provided a glimmer of hope for the Cork outfit, quickly extinguished by substitute Johnny Hayes, Mahony and, yes, that man again Gleeson.
“This is his first year playing Fitzgibbon. Sometimes it can take a second year to get to the intensity of the Fitzgibbon,” said manager Colm Bonnar of his star pupil.
“He looks so skilful and you could pitch him in the summer time, but he is able to work hard too. He made tremendous catches under pressure out there. He scored some tremendous points under pressure. That is what Fitzgibbon does.
Bonnar pointed to their five unanswered minors either side of the extra-time break as the game’s crucial period.
“CIT had come through all their games in flying colours so we needed to make sure we were in the game from the start and that they didn’t get a lead on us. We stayed with them all the way. In the second period of extra-time we found another level. I am delighted with the win.”
It was a massively entertaining contest which was level on no fewer than 11 occasions. The closeness of the scoring, and the manner in which the lead changed hands, provided a fascinating spectacle and while the error count was high, sheer drama more than compensated.
For CIT, it was another heartbreaking afternoon – their Fitzgibbon run ended for a successive year by Bonnar’s WIT. Failure to push on when in the driving seat midway through the second-half is sure to dominate post-mortems on Leeside this morning. Substitute Jamie Coughlan was presented with a chance to secure victory at the end of normal time, but he was shut out by four blue shirts.
Scorers for Waterford IT: A Gleeson 1-6 (0-1 sc); P Mahony 0-8 (0-5f, 0-1 ’65); G O’Brien 0-4; J Dillon, J Hayes 0-1 each.
Scorers for Cork IT: J O’Dwyer 0-5 (0-3f, 0-1 ’65); C Buckley 0-3; A Walsh, J Cronin, B Cooper, D Lordan (0-1f), N McNamara 0-2 each; K Kavanagh 0-1.
WIT: D Stapleton (Limerick); T Fox (Tipperary), G Teehan (Kilkenny), J Maher (Waterford); T Hamill (Tipperary), M O’Neill (Waterford), O McGrath (Kilkenny); J Langton (Kilkenny), S Roche (Waterford); G O’Brien (Waterford), P Mahony (Waterford), H Kehoe (Wexford); L McGrath (Tipperary), J Dillon (Waterford), A Gleeson (Waterford).
Subs: J Hayes (Kilkenny) for L McGrath (50 mins), S O’Neill (Waterford) for O McGrath (60, inj), G Malone (Kilkenny) for O’Brien (76), E Ryan (Offaly) for Kehoe (79), P Campion (Kilkenny) for Dillon (80).
CIT: G Minihane (Courcey Rovers); S Murphy (Blackrock), A Dennehy (Charleville), T Lawrence (Brian Dillons); J Herlihy (Newtownshandrum), M Ellis (Millstreet), C Buckley (Na Piarsaigh); C Hammersley (Clonoulty Rossmore), W Murphy (Meelin); B Cooper (Youghal), J Cronin (Lisgoold), A Walsh (Kanturk); N McNamara (Kilworth), K Kavanagh (Carrigaline), J O’Dwyer (Killenaule).
Subs: M Russell (Aghada) for W Murphy (38 mins), P White (Midleton) for McNamara (47), J Coughlan (Newtownshandrum) for Kavanagh (54), D Lordan (Courcey Rovers) for Hammersley (70).
Referee: F Horgan (Tipperary).