Expect a decent crowd so at CIT this evening as the two third-level institutions, separated by no more than four kilometres of road, get the 2018 edition of the Fitzgibbon Cup underway.
That last encounter in February of 2014 went against the grain in that it was CIT who emerged from UCC’s shadow to progress to a third ever decider at their neighbours’ expense.
UCC, then the reigning champions, had been responsible for CIT’s demise the previous two springs (quarter-final in 2013, final in 2012) and it appeared they would continue to enjoy local supremacy when hitting 10 unanswered points midway through the second-half in Belfast to turn a 1-13 to 0-7 deficit into a one-point lead eight minutes from time.
Their opponents fought back to regain parity, with Tipperary’s John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer landing the deciding score to hand CIT a rare triumph in the college derby.
The difference between the sides was neatly summed up by CIT manager Pat Mulcahy afterwards. “UCC were going for three-in-a-row with a team full of inter-county stars. We mightn’t have too many inter-county stars but it is all about the team spirit.”
It’s a similar story this evening, UCC boasting a whole host of household names from the inter-county scene.
That’s not to disrespect those in the opposite corner, especially when CIT can call on Cork sub goalkeeper Patrick Collins, Michael Cahalane, the scorer of the deciding goal in last year’s Munster quarter-final win over Tipperary, Waterford’s Mikey Kearney, and Darragh Fanning and Robbie Hanley, full-back and midfield respectively on the 2017 All-Ireland U21 winning Limerick team. Still, there’s no getting away from the class flowing through this UCC line up.
There’s Shane Kingston, Darragh Fitzgibbon and All-Star Mark Coleman of Cork persuasion, Tipperary midfielder Michael Breen and Waterford pair, Conor Gleeson and Tom Devine. Kilkenny’s John Power is in there too.
Though that talent base can present its own obstacles, as Breen accepts. “We’ve a lot of guys who are involved in county panels so it is a challenge to get everyone to training because lads are being pulled left, right and centre. But we have a good crop of talent so we should be ok. You’ve top-notch guys who have played in All-Ireland semi-finals and finals. It’s just about nurturing it and getting everyone together.”
Though UCC still sit six clear of UCD on top of the honours list with 38 titles, Fitzgibbon powerbase has shifted from Leeside to Shannonside in recent years “The record shows, Mary I have won two in a row, and UL before that. In Cork we just haven’t had the same success,” Breen says.
“Two years ago, even three years ago, we failed to get out of the group. Last year we got to the weekend, but still no joy. It’s something we pride ourselves on, that we come from a good tradition, but tradition is nothing when you’re playing in the now. Tradition goes out the window.”