Even last year, when the university reached the Sigerson Cup semi-final for the first time since 1997, they were outshone by the hurlers who went one step better in the Fitzgibbon Cup.
It wasn’t just the hurlers who pushed them into the background, mind. UL’s ladies football and camogie teams also reached the finals of their respective competitions, once again casting the footballers as the poor relation.
The 2017 script, though, reads differently to previous editions.
Brian Lohan’s hurlers were dumped out at the quarter-final stage on Wednesday, while Brian Carson’s footballers are on the road to Mayo today for a second successive Sigerson Cup semi-final appearance.
Where they were thankful for a seat at the top table in 2016, they’d like to make an impression on this occasion.
John Mullins enrolled at the Limerick university in September 2015. The Cork defender didn’t know a huge amount about the football scene at the Castletroy campus and was hugely disappointed when their freshers campaign ended at the first round.
He kept an eye on the Sigerson lads, though, and their victories over IT Tralee and Queens en route to the finals weekend offered hope he could be part of an improving side this season.
From the starting team which fell to UCD 4-12 to 1-9 in the penultimate round last February, seven are likely to start this afternoon’s rematch.
They include Caherciveen’s Denis Daly, recent Mayo league debutant Fergal Boland and Limerick’s Gearóid Hegarty. New additions include Kerry’s Michael Geaney, Clare’s Pearse Lillis and Niall McDermott — the latter lined out at full-forward for Cavan when the Dubs visited Breffni Park earlier this month.
“We had a meeting at the start of the year where that semi-final was discussed in great detail,” said Mullins, who has made the number three shirt his own with a string of fine performances.
“It was a heavy defeat and not a lot went right for them on the day. We went through it with a fine comb, looked at the positives and negatives and used that as our springboard for this season.
“There was always a positivity within the camp we could get back to the finals weekend. It never felt out of reach. We went into all our games with a level of expectation on ourselves. There was always a want and desire to get back there and right the wrongs of last year.”
Their road to Mayo has certainly not been without its difficulties. They found themselves trailing Maynooth by 11 points with 24 minutes remaining in their first round tie and were still chasing a four-point deficit as the clock entered second-half stoppages. In the quarter-final, they again came from behind to take down DIT, this despite playing into the face of a strong wind in the second period.
“Fellas were amazed last year at UL having made such strides that they were there on the finals weekend. People were thinking, maybe, this was a flash in the pan. But reaching back-to-back semis is a really good sign of our progression and has created a great buzz within the UL GAA club towards football.
“There has been a huge push with regard to football in UL over the past two years and there is no doubt that there has been a change in attitude in how the footballers are now viewed.”
Sigerson hasn’t been Mullins’ sole focus since the turn of the year. The 20-year-old Éire Óg defender was called into the Cork squad before Christmas and got the last quarter of an hour at Newbridge on Sunday.
He’s also vice-captain of Sean Hayes’ U21 side.
Throw in his physiotherapy studies and he’ll tell you that most Sunday nights are spent carefully mapping out the week ahead.
“The course is 20 hours a week between lectures and labs, but a bit like football, you have to put in a fair bit of graft on your own. It is brilliant to have been given the opportunity to balance both my football and studies.
“When you are growing up, it is every young fella’s dream to get that red shirt.
“I am thrilled to be part of the set-up.
“Sigerson is my immediate focus and hopefully, we can give a good account of ourselves this weekend.”