The underdogs weren’t supposed to get this close. Their challenge wasn’t supposed to run into the fourth minute of second-half stoppages.
UL’s underrated footballers should have been content with the manner in which they frightened the reigning champions. As moral victories go, this was right up there. Instead, there was a deep sense of regret at what might have been.
Chasing a two-point deficit with time up, whilst playing into the teeth of a strong wind, the Limerick university seized possession from their opponents and sought one last roll of the dice. Possession was worked through the hands of Fergal Boland, Ian Burke, Cian Sheehan and Jack Goulding. The ball was sent in over the top where Gearoid Hegarty’s height allowed him to control possession, with one hand, over the head of his marker.
Hegarty was inside the cover. Two blue shirts scrambled to close him down. They couldn’t get a glove on him. Goal on. Trigger pulled. Wide. Oh so narrowly wide.
The ensuing kick-out was still hanging in the air when referee John Gilmartin brought the second of yesterday’s Sigerson Cup semi-finals to a close. UCD had survived, just.
The vanquished UL players sunk to the floor, devastated.
This time last year, these two colleges met at this very juncture. The Belfield outfit charged 2-4 to 0-0 clear by the end of the first-quarter and everything thereafter thus became irrelevant.
On this occasion, the Limerick university were backed by the elements in the opening period. It would at least ensure the decent crowd present were treated to competitive fare for longer than 15 minutes. Much, much longer, as it turned out.
Barry O’Sullivan and Eamon Wallace sent the favourites two clear inside the opening two minutes. UL ‘keeper Colm O’Driscoll was also called into action as the 2016 champions sought to put this one to bed early.
A Niall McDermott free settled UL and they were unlucky not to register the opening major when Shane Ryan’s strike was taken off the line by Jim Rossiter. Ryan had a second goal chance later in the half, his fisted effort deflected out for a ’45.
Brian Carson’s charges matched whatever Paul Mannion and company conjured up at the far end and McDermott’s third of the half had them 0-7 to 0-6 in front at the break. Such a slender advantage, though, was never going to be sufficient when UCD kicked into gear with the wind at their back and this appeared to ring true following a Paul Mannion converted penalty five minutes into the second period.
The decision to award said penalty was somewhat puzzling and even more unusual was UCD’s inability to drive on. Important to note here that they started without the suspended Colm Basquel, while a hamstring injury forced Mannion off not long after he goaled.
Their difficulties, mind, were as much to do with the opposition’s resilience. McDermott (free), Denis Daly and Michael Geaney landed three on the bounce to level matters for a sixth time.
Barry McGinn and Conor McCarthy, the only two UCD players outside of Mannion to score in the second-half, raised white flags to nudge them two clear entering the four minutes of stoppages. They tallied seven wides during the second period and would have been kicking themselves had such wastefulness been punished by Hegarty at the death.
So, John Divilly’s students live to fight another day. Today, in fact, where St Mary’s present the final roadblock to back-to-back titles.
P Mannion (1-2, 1-0 pen); C McCarthy (0-3, 0-1 free); B McGinn (0-2, 0-1 free); J McCaffrey, B O’Sullivan, E Wallace (0-1 each).
N McDermott (0-4, 0-3 frees); D Daly (0-2, 0-1 ’45); B O’Keeffe (0-1 free), I Burke (0-1 free), P White, M Geaney, F Boland (0-1 each).
C Honan (Meath); E Murchan (Dublin), M Fitzsimmons (Dublin), J Rossiter (Wexford); S Coen (Mayo), J McCaffrey (Dublin), S O’Dea (Limerick); B O’Sullivan (Kerry), L Casey (Tipperary); S Mullooly (Roscommon), C McCarthy (Monaghan), E Wallace (Meath); L Moran (Longford), P Mannion (Dublin), B McGinn (Monaghan).
J Barry (Kerry) for Wallace (HT); C Mullally (Dublin) for Mullooly (HT); T Hayes (Cavan) for Moran (54, inj); E Lowry (Laois) for Moran (56); A McDonnell (Louth) for Fitzsimmons (56, bc).
C O’Driscoll (Cork); C Long (Kerry), J Mullins (Cork), D Brosnan (Kerry); P White (Limerick), L Boland (Tipperary), P Lillis (Clare); G Hegarty (Limerick), C Sheehan (Limerick); F Boland (Mayo), M Geaney (Kerry), B O’Keeffe (Kerry); S Ryan (Kerry), D Daly (Kerry), N McDermott (Cavan).
C O’Dea (Clare) for Ryan (HT); I Burke (Galway) for O’Keeffe (46); J Goulding (Kerry) for Daly (57); J Naughton (Limerick) for Geaney (60); C McNamee (Offaly) for Boland (60).
J Gilmartin (Sligo).