Had they thrown in the towel at the end of their third game in five days, the second in 24-hours to require extra-time, there wouldn’t have been a single voice of criticism.
On several occasions throughout an absorbing 80 minutes UL had threatened to pull the plug on the champions. Each time WIT performed a most remarkable act of resurrection, none more so than in the wake of Stephen Bennett’s goal on 73 minutes.
Two blue shirts failed to control the sliotar around midfield and UL broke through to claim possession. Pursued by three WIT defenders, David McInerney offloaded to Bennett and, as he had done in the semi-final, the substitute rattled the right corner of the net.
The third goal of the contest, their second of extra-time following Jason Forde’s strike on 67 minutes, moved UL 3-11 to 0-17 clear and when PJ Scully pointed in the subsequent action, WIT’s resistance looked to have been broken. Indeed, their frustration was compounded when UL ‘keeper Paul Maher then produced a save to deny Johnny Hayes.
Mahony converted the resulting ’65. Five minutes they had to rescue a three-point deficit. UL retreated in a bid to hold their advantage.
Centre-back Martin O’Neill twice nailed the target in quick succession, his second effort an outrageous score from the stand sideline.
Down to the minimum — Pauric Mahony, Harry Kehoe, Gavin O’Brien and Jack Langton driving relentlessly forward. On 79 minutes, O’Brien threw possession out to Stephen Roche. The midfielder, under pressure, back-pedalled to Tom Fox. From inside half-way, the corner-back let fly. The posts split. Level, again.
Corner-forward Jake Dillon was a central figure in last year’s all-conquering side. He knows the unbreakable spirit of this group more than most.
“To be honest we are a group that never think we are beaten,” he said.
“We were four points down against CIT when playing into the wind on Friday, things didn’t look like they were going to go our way. We dug deep. We don’t give up.”
The spirit is special. UL would seem to have it too, mind. Tony Kelly stuck over that free at the end of normal time in a real pressure situation.
“We’ve had two days of extra-time. We don’t make things easy for ourselves. We experienced what it was like to win last year and we didn’t want to let that go without a fight.”
Did he believe they had the title sewn up when substitute Johnny Hayes edged them in front on the hour mark?
“Johnny is unlucky not to be starting. For the second day in-a-row he made a big contribution when introduced. We were a point up. The clock was ticking down. Their man did well to win the free. Kelly slotted it over and we couldn’t rest on that. We had to go again for extra-time.”
Extra-time would not have been forthcoming had WIT kept their composure in the dying embers.
Trailing by 1-10 to 0-9, substitute Hayes and Pauric Mahony reeled off five unanswered points. Into the one minute of additional time allotted by referee Brian Gavin and UL searched frantically for an equaliser.
Dan Morrissey didn’t appear to be making any inroads down the left wing, but he was needlessly hauled to the floor by Stephen Roche. With regular free-taker John McGrath substituted and Jason Forde having missed their last placed ball effort, Tony Kelly stepped forward. In the words of Brian Lohan, “no better man’’.
UL were firmly in the driving seat returning to the dressing room at half-time, ahead by 0-6 to 0-4 despite having played into the teeth of a swirling gale.
Jason Forde’s redeployment as a sweeper, added to the sterling defensive work of David McInerney and Brian Stapleton, suffocated WIT’s attacking efforts.
Bonnar’s charges tallied a meagre four points in the opening 30 minutes – Austin Gleeson’s sideline cut the pick of the bunch. John McGrath (0-4), Tommy Heffernan and Kevin O’Brien were on the mark for the Limerick University and when Heffernan, set-up by O’Brien, pounced for the opening goal on 32 minutes, they were poised to drive on to victory.
WIT, though, simply refused to die.
Scorers for UL: J McGrath (0-5, 0-3 frees); J Forde (0-1 free), T Heffernan (1-1 each); S Bennett (1-0); T Kelly (0-2, 0-1 free); K O’Brien, C McInerney, PJ Scully (0-1 each).
Scorers for WIT: P Mahony (0-8, 0-5 frees, 0-1 65); J Hayes (0-3); J Dillon, A Gleeson (0-1 sc) T Fox, M O’Neill (0-2 each); H Kehoe, T Hamill (0-1 each).
UL: P Maher (Tipperary); G Ryan (Clare), B Troy (Kilkenny), E Moriarty (Kilkenny); D Quinn (Tipperary), D McInerney (Clare), B Stapleton (Tipperary); D Morrissey (Limerick), T Kelly (Clare); C Martin (Kilkenny), J McGrath (Tipperary), J Forde (Tipperary); K O’Brien (Limerick), C McInerney (Clare), T Heffernan (Tipperary).
Subs: S Bennett (Waterford) for McGrath (49 mins), PJ Scully (Laois) for C McInerney (56), M Carmody (Limerick) for O’Brien (68), A McGuane (Clare) for Martin (75).
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); H Kehoe (Wexford), P Mahony (Waterford), G O’Brien (Waterford); L McGrath (Tipperary), A Gleeson (Waterford), J Dillon (Waterford).
Subs: J Hayes (Kilkenny) for L McGrath (49 mins), C O’Brien (Cork) for Gleeson (78).
Referee: B Gavin (Offaly).
Too many to recount. Most obvious would have to be Stephen Roche’s needless foul on UL’s Dan Morrissey in second-half stoppage time. Waterford IT had one hand on the Cup by this juncture. Tony Kelly converted the resulting free to force extra-time.
The fourth Fitzgibbon Cup final in nine years to require extra-time. This competition has a rich history in serving up absorbing encounters.
WIT scoring twice as much while playing into the gale than they did when backed by the elements in normal time. UL did likewise in extra-time.
Brian Troy and Tony Kelly impressed for UL; Harry Kehoe and Pauric Mahony for WIT. The nod goes to WIT centre-back Martin O’Neill. Composed and assured over the 80 minutes. Also hit two crucial points deep in the second period of extra-time.
Jason Forde’s first-half positioning in front of the UL full-back line frustrated WIT’s forward unit, and, in particular, starved full-forward Austin Gleeson of ball. Forde’s sweeping completely snuffed out the threat of the Mount Sion hurler. The decision of the UL management, however, to withdraw leading forward John McGrath on 49 minutes was bewildering.
Brian Lohan was not overly pleased with Brian Gavin’s performance, remarking that their second-half free count was “disappointing”. The Offaly official did let a lot go, but his whistle-free approach didn’t fall in favour of either side.
The eagerly anticipated replay. Official confirmation is expected this afternoon, but Wednesday week, March 11, under lights, is the likely date.