The Westmeath footballer and man of the match in UCD’s first Sigerson triumph since 1996 is currently undertaking a PhD in Agricultural Science, but given the Comhairle Ardoideachais rule which caps a player’s third-level GAA activity at six years, Heslin doesn’t know for certain if he’ll be able to lend a hand in next year’s title defence.
“I know if Davey Billings was around, he’d be telling me not to tell people,” Heslin’s face lighting up when mentioning the former UCD GAA executive, who died suddenly last April.
It was impossible to escape Billings’ presence in Jordanstown; GAA President Aogán Ó Fearghail, when handing over the silverware to Jack McCaffrey, said it was fitting the Sigerson Cup was returning to Belfield in a year where they had lost their favourite son, the winning captain dedicated his speech to the man who had impacted on every player stood before him, while Billings’ wife Annette was asked to stand in for the post-match team photo.
“The only man worth mentioning here today is Dave Billings,” said McCaffrey.
“We didn’t use the memory of Dave as motivation at any one point during the year, but he was kind of with us all the way. He has been with us every minute since we came to UCD. He was a very special man.
“He always preached how Sigerson Cup wasn’t about the cup, it was about the friendships we make. We are lucky enough that some of those friendships are on the DCU team as well. This is what Dave is all about, that is what Sigerson is all about, but winning this isn’t half bad either.”
The 2015 footballer of the year, hindered by a hamstring injury which removed him from Friday’s semi-final, was forced out of the action with three minutes remaining. Then, as the clock ticked into time added on, Conor McCarthy was black carded. Having already used their full complement of subs, no replacement could be sent in and so UCD played the six minutes of injury-time with 14 men.
The loss of two key figures compounded an already difficult afternoon for the favourites, where a quad injury finished Paul Mannion after 16 minutes, Niall Kelly following him to the sideline for a debatable black card shortly before the break.
Having dominated the opening 30 minutes, John Divilly’s side were reeled in by a well-worked DCU goal in first-half stoppages. David Byrne and Enda Smith were central to a running move which originated out around the middle and with Tipperary’s Steven O’Brien having followed the play into the UCD danger area, he received possession from Smith and sent a low shot beyond keeper Eoghan Keogh.
O’Brien’s goal levelled proceedings at 1-1 to 0-4 and the reigning champions hit the front when Shane Carey flung over his second free for a Ryan Wylie foul on Diarmuid O’Connor.
Momentum now resided with Niall Moyna’s students yet they were unable to capitalise. DCU failed to add to their tally during the opening 22 minutes of the second half. Indeed none of their starting six forwards scored from play, while O’Brien’s goal was their sole score from open play in the decider.
Three Heslin frees on 32, 38 and 42 minutes returned UCD in front as their half-back line of McCaffrey, Michael Fitzsimons, and Conor Mullally pulled the shutters down on the opposition attack. McCaffrey, in particular, was a real source of menace, popping up all over the field.
Heslin, so effective in front of goal, set up Conor McCarthy for his second score on 43 minutes; the scoreboard now reading 0-8 to 1-2 in their favour. The title was slipping from DCU’s grasp.
On 52 minutes, the North Dublin outfit engineered themselves a lifeline. Colm Begley played through sub Conor McHugh and while his goal effort was parried by Keogh, Conor McGraynor was hauled to the floor when attempting to finish the rebound. Conor Moynagh dispatched the resulting spot-kick to level it once more.
Kevin Feely and a subdued Diarmuid O’Connor squandered opportunities to edge DCU in front and where both men lacked composure in the face of adversity, Heslin had it in bucket loads. He kicked UCD into a 0-9 to 2-2 lead on 57 minutes and Stephen Coen ended a 20-year wait for Sigerson glory when slotting the insurance point with the clock in the red.
J Heslin (0-6, 0-4 fs); C McCarthy (0-2); P Mannion (0-1 f), S Coen (0-1 each).
C Moynagh (1-0 pen), S O’Brien (1-0 each); S Carey (0-2 fs).
E Keogh (Laois); D Hyland (Kildare), D Byrne (Dublin), R Wylie (Monaghan); C Mullally (Dublin), M Fitzsimons (Dublin), J McCaffrey (Dublin); L Casey (Tipperary), R McDaid (Dublin); C Basquel (Dublin), J Heslin (Westmeath), C McCarthy (Monaghan); N Kelly (Kildare), P Mannion (Dublin), E Lowry (Laois).
T Hayes (Cavan) for Mannion (16 mins, inj), J McEntee (Meath) for Kelly (28, bc), S Coen (Mayo) for McEntee (43), J Barry (Kerry) for Lowry (53), S O’Dea (Limerick) for McCaffrey (57, inj), T Moolick (Kildare) for Casey (58).
P O’Donnell (Donegal); K Feely (Kildare), J Smith (Dublin), S Attride (Laois); C Moynagh (Cavan), K Daly (Westmeath), D Byrne (Dublin); S O’Brien (Tipperary), M Quinn (Longford); R Connor (Longford), E Smith (Roscommon), C Begley (Laois); R Lyons (Fermanagh) D O’Connor (Mayo), S Carey (Monaghan).
S Carthy (Dublin) for Quinn (HT), C McGraynor (Wicklow) for Connor (HT), D Ward (Monaghan) for Daly (44), C McHugh (Dublin) for Carey (47), C Breheny (Sligo) for Lyons (47), C McNally (Armagh) for Smith (59).
D Coldrick (Meath).