DJ Carey’s IT Carlow, at the third time of asking, have finally secured passage to the Fitzgibbon Cup finals weekend.
The Kilkenny legend has spent the past three years moulding a team that could live with the traditional powerhouses of the third-level scene and while three consecutive league titles were annexed, the hurlers of IT Carlow had twice fallen at the quarter-final hurdle in the Fitzgibbon.
In 2015, they were four points shy of LIT. Last year, they went down to UCD, after extra-time, by the minimum. A third consecutive quarter-final defeat was forecast as very few teams have gone to Limerick in recent years and managed a result against the Brian Lohan managed side.
That IT Carlow did so yesterday was due in no small part to the three goals engineered inside the opening 10 minutes.
Gearóid Hegarty, David Gleeson and Jason Forde (free) nudged the hosts three clear by the third minute but the game was quickly turned on its head as Martin Kavanagh pounced for goal number one. David Gleeson and a Tony Kelly goal effort deflected over by Carlow keeper Enda Rowland restored parity, but the opportunities were far more plentiful at the other end of the field as the UL full-back line struggled to come to terms with their opposite numbers.
On nine minutes, Mark Russell rose highest to collect James Doyle’s delivery before hammering the sliotar past Paul Maher. The UL ‘keeper was beaten for a third occasion little over a minute later, Jack Fagan sending the visitors 3-2 to 0-5 clear.
Carey’s students landed three of the game’s next four scores and, all of a sudden, an eight-point gap had been established. A fourth goal could have been added during this period but for a fine Liam O’Connor block to deny Chris Bolger.
In danger of losing sight of their opponents, the Limerick University were hauled back into contention by Tony Kelly, Gearóid Hegarty and David Fitzgerald. Throw in a pair of John McGrath frees and a second by Fitzgerald and they didn’t look so bruised at half-time. 3-7 to 0-12 read the board.
This gap held until the beginning of the final quarter where two apiece from Aidan McGuane and John McGrath edged UL into a 0-20 to 3-10 lead. They might have hit the front sooner were it not for two excellent blocks which kept out McGrath and Tom Morrissey goal shots.
As it was, Stephen Maher and Martin Kavanagh regained the initiative for IT Carlow. Fitzgerald levelled matters with his third, but UL, who lined out minus the injured Stephen Bennett, were rocked back on their heels when Chris Bolger fired home a decisive fourth goal on the hour mark. Next up for the winners is a clash with UCC.
“We set out three years ago to try and make the Fitzgibbon weekend because it never happened before in Carlow,” remarked Carey. “We are very fortunate most of this bunch have been around for the past three years. We are absolutely thrilled, no words can describe how thrilled we are. The goals in the first-half were crucial. We spoke about it during the week that we needed goals.
“We know we will be underdogs at the finals weekend, but we won’t be going to make up the numbers. We will be going to try and win it.”
S Maher (0-6, 0-5 frees, 0-1 ’65); J Fagan, M Kavanagh (1-2 each); M Russell, C Bolger (1-1 each); C Dwyer (0-2); J Doyle, C Dunford (0-1 each).
J McGrath (0-8, 0-6 frees, 0-1 ’65); T Kelly (0-4); D Fitzgerald (0-3); A McGuane, D Gleeson, G Hegarty (0-2 each); J Forde (0-1 free), M Mullins (0-1 each).
E Rowland (Laois); D Palmer (Laois), K Hannafin (Kerry), R Brown (Waterford); J Doyle (Carlow), D Healy (Meath), D O’Hanlon (Tipperary); K Kelly (Kilkenny), C Dunford (Waterford); C Dwyer (Laois), S Maher (Laois), M Kavanagh (Carlow); C Bolger (Kilkenny), M Russell (Tipperary), J Fagan (Waterford).
T Nolan (Tipperary) for Kelly (50 mins).
P Maher (Tipperary); M Casey (Limerick), B Troy (Kilkenny), L O’Connor (Clare); B Heffernan (Tipperary), J Forde (Tipperary), D Fitzgerald (Clare); A McGuane (Clare), K Hehir (Clare); T Morrissey (Limerick), T Kelly (Clare), G Hegarty (Limerick); D Gleeson (Tipperary), M Mullins (Galway), J McGrath (Tipperary).
B Duggan (Clare) for Troy (HT); B Nash (Limerick) for Gleeson (56).
D Kirwan (Cork).