The Dublin half-back was removed from the action at the end of the first quarter when attempting to move the ball out of defence and although his services weren’t required to see UCD progress, the Belfield outfit are now sweating on his fitness ahead of today’s final joust with rivals DCU.
“He came over to the sideline and said he felt his hamstring when he was working the ball out. It doesn’t look to good, to be honest,” said UCD manager John Divilly.
“That is what a panel is there for. If Jack is fit, he’s fit. I won’t be losing any sleep over it.”
UCD, who last annexed third-level’s premier football crown back in 1996, already had one foot in the decider come McCaffrey’s injury; the scoreboard reading 2-4 to 0-0 in their favour after 15 minutes.
Underdogs UL required a decent start if they were to have any chance of springing an upset, but their task was considerably heightened when Tipperary’s Liam Casey banged home the opening UCD goal inside two minutes.
Paul Mannion and Casey split the posts in the ensuing passages and UCD had the umpire reaching for a second green flag on 12 minutes as Eoin Lowry, set up by John Heslin, buried the ball past UL keeper Colm O’Driscoll.
Three more points from the boot of Heslin (two frees) and Lowry (’45) — interrupted by UL’s opener courtesy of Aidan Rowan on 17 mi utes — stretched the UCD lead out to 11 points (2-6 to 0-1) and it was game over when Niall Kelly, put through by the extremely busy Heslin, slotted goal number three on 20 minutes.
Bryan O’Shea kicked UL’s second on 22 minutes, but there was no let-up from Divilly’s charges; Heslin (free), Mannion and Conor McCarthy putting 16 points between the sides at half-time, 3-9 to 0-2.
The problem for UL, to put it bluntly, was that they were outclassed in every department. Limerick senior Gearóid Hegarty was substituted after 17 minutes such was Jack Barry and Liam Casey’s dominance at midfield. Niall Kelly terrorised the left flank of the opposition defence with scorching run after scorching run, while John Heslin and Paul Mannion drifted wherever they pleased, never without leaving their imprint, mind.
Adding to the woes of the Limerick university was the lack of resistance offered by their defensive unit, the winners were afforded far too much space when sizing up the target.
A mix-up between Aidan Rowan and Colm O’Driscoll handed Niall Kelly his second major on 47 minutes, heaping further misery on Brian Carson’s students in the process.
UL, to be fair, did manage a goal of their own six minutes later through Ian Burke.
It mattered little, UCD’s gaze having long since turned to this afternoon’s showpiece.
“Semi-finals are there for winning. It is a cliché, but it is the truth,” reflected Divilly afterwards.
“We came out of the blocks and they just couldn’t cope. If we get a couple of goals early on in the final, neither Jordanstown nor DCU will lie down. UL don’t have the same quality as DCU or Jordanstown. That is no disrespect to them. They know that themselves. We had more quality players than UL. I would have been disappointed today if our lads didn’t come through.”
N Kelly (2-0); J Heslin (0-5, 0-4 frees); E Lowry (0-1 ’45), L Casey (1-1 each); P Mannion (0-3, 0-1 free); C McCarthy, T Moolick (0-1 each).
B O’Shea (0-4, 0-1 free, 0-1 ’45); I Burke (1-0); D Daly (0-2); A Rowan, K Moore (0-1free), R Deane (0-1 each).
E Keogh (Laois); R Wylie (Monaghan), D Hyland (Kildare), D Byrne (Dublin); S O’Dea (Limerick), M Fitzsimons (Dublin), J McCaffrey (Dublin); J Barry (Kerry), L Casey (Tipperary); C McCarthy (Monaghan), J Heslin (Westmeath), J McEntee (Meath); N Kelly (Kildare), P Mannion (Dublin), E Lowry (Laois).
N McInerney (Roscommon) for McCaffrey (15 mins, inj), S Coen (Mayo) for Hyland (HT), P Kingston (Laois) for McCarthy (HT), R Carr (Louth) for Mannion (40), T Moolick (Kildare) for Kelly (51).
C O’Driscoll (Cork); E Kiely (Kerry), C Long (Kerry), P O’Connor (Kerry); A Rowan (Longford), D Daly (Kerry), F Boland (Mayo); G Hegarty (Limerick), R Deane (Cork); D Neville (Limerick), S Killoran (Roscommon), C Sheehan (Limerick); I Burke (Galway), K Moore (Limerick), B O’Shea (Kerry).
D Larkin (Wexford) for Hegarty (19 mins), P White (Limerick) for F Boland (22), L Boland (Tipperary) for Larkin (26, bc), S Naughton (Limerick) for Moore (44), C O’Dea (Limerick) for Killoran (45), N Donovan (Tipperary) for Daly (51).
C Branagan (Down).