Ger Cunningham’s charges required at least a two-point win to ensure their place in the quarter-final draw at the expense of Davy Fitzgerald’s Limerick IT. Victory alone, however, proved beyond the home outfit yesterday, a David Dempsey goal on 56 minutes condemning UCC to their second defeat of the group stages.
Alan Cadogan’s goal four minutes earlier had put UCC into a 1-13 to 1-12 lead, but as they pushed forward in the closing stages in chase of the required margin of victory, gaps appeared at the back which the visitors exploited to devastating effect.
Having won the competition in 2012 and 2013, while again reaching the finals weekend in 2014, the failure of the current crop, under Ger Cunningham’s watch, to progress beyond the group stages two years running is a major setback for the Cork university; particularly when one considers the wealth of talent coursing through the squad – their forward unit alone contained three All-Ireland medal winners (Niall McCarthy, John Power, and Shane O’Donnell).
Not enough of UCC’s big-name players, though, made their presence felt. Dan Morrissey, Michael Breen and Shane Roche ran a tight house at the back, but it was further up the field where their problems lay. Cormac Murphy, despite two excellent first-half points, came off second best against Cathal Barrett at midfield, while their starting six forwards managed a paltry 1-3 from play over the hour.
“We were there at half-time, we knew what we had to do, but they got the goals at the right time,” said UCC selector Tom Kingston. “We were under pressure from the first day when UCD came down here and beat us. We were fighting an uphill battle from there.”
Rob O’Shea, with three frees, was UCC’s chief contributor in the opening half as the teams returned to their dressing rooms deadlocked at 0-7 apiece. LIT struggled from the placed ball, with free-taking duties changing hands on three occasions – Diarmuid Byrnes, David Reidy and Peter Duggan slotting one free each.
LIT keeper Eibhear Quilligan made the most significant contribution of the opening period when repelling a rasping John Power drive on 27 minutes. Shane O’Donnell was unable to bat home the rebound, with Alan Cadogan’s follow-up swept clear.
The contest’s opening goal presented itself 15 seconds into the second-half as Peter Duggan pulled to the net after a Cathal Barrett delivery was poorly dealt with by the UCC full-back. Four Rob O’Shea frees in the ensuing passages were matched by dead-ball efforts from Byrnes (0-2), as well as Michael O’Malley and David Dempsey minors.Sub Barry Lawton’s 46th- minute point was UCC’s first from open play since Tom Devine split the posts four minutes before the call for half-time. Alan Dempsey responded for the visitors and even though Cadogan goaled subsequently following good work from Niall McCarthy and Lawton, LIT hit back with 1-1 to reestablish their advantage.
Quilligan pulled off a fine save to deny Lawton on 57 minutes and rubberstamp their third win of the campaign and top spot in Group A.
P Duggan (1-4, 0-2 frees); D Dempsey (1-2); D Byrnes (0-3, 0-3 frees); A Dempsey, M O’Malley (0-2); D Reidy (0-1 free), C Barrett (0-1 each).
R O’Shea (0-7, 0-7 frees); A Cadogan (1-0); B Lawton, C Murphy (0-2 each); J Power, T Devine, N McCarthy (0-1 each).
E Quilligan (Feakle, Clare); N O’Connor (Newmarket-on-Fergus, Clare), K Bennett (Ballysaggart, Waterford), O’Brien (Clonlara, Clare); C Nolan (Smith O’Briens, Clare), W Ryan (Clonakenny, Tipperary), D Byrnes (Patrickswell, Limerick); C Barrett (Holycross/Ballycahill, Tipperary), J Campion (Borris/Kilcotton, Laois); J Shanahan (Sixmilebridge, Clare), M O’Malley (Kilmaley, Clare), D Dempsey (Na Piarsaigh); N Maher (Doon, Limerick), P Duggan (Clooney/Quin, Clare), D Reidy (Éire Óg, Ennis, Clare).
A Dempsey (Na Piarsaigh, Limerick) for Campion (36 mins), W Connors (Kildangan, Tipperary) for Nolan (46), S Gleeson (Cratloe, Clare) for Maher (58).
K Hogan (Clooney/Quin, Clare); C Gleeson (Fourmilewater, Waterford), M Breen (Ballina, Tipperary), S Roche (Shamrocks, Waterford); G O’Brien (Roanmore, Waterford), D Morrissey (Ahane, Limerick), R Cahalane (Ballymartle, Cork); J Barron (Fourmilewater, Waterford), C Murphy (Mallow, Cork); T Devine (Modeligo, Waterford), N McCarthy (Carrigtwohill), R O’Shea (Carrigaline, Cork); A Cadogan (Douglas, Cork), J Power (Carrickshock, Kilkenny), S O’Donnell (Éire Óg, Ennis, Clare).
B Lawton (Castlemartyr, Cork) for Cahalane (39 mins), DJ Foran (Portlaw, Waterford) for Devine (47, inj), E Finn (St Finbarr’s, Cork) for Power (58).
F Horgan (Tipperary).