Aaron Gillane was the hero as Mary Immaculate College booked their place in this year’s Fitzgibbon Cup final when they held off the NUIG challenge at Cusack Park in Ennis..
The Limerick All-Ireland winner scored 1-12, including a crucial penalty just before half-time as the 2016 and 2017 champions advanced to face UCC in the final.
Mary I held a 1-8 to 0-9 lead at half-time and pulled clear in the closing stages, even though they were almost caught by Brian Concannon’s late disallowed goal.
There was little between them early on as Gillane scored from a free in the opening minute and Brian Concannon hit back before Evan Niland’s first free in the fourth minute.
Colin O’Brien drew the sides level and then Galway starr Conor Whelan floated over a brilliant effort from the left wing. NUIG were in the ascendency but after Whelan scored, fellow Galway man Thomas Monaghan pointed up the other end.
NUIG took a 0-5 to 0-3 lead with a couple of Evan Niland frees but they were pegged back again. Gillane and Niland traded frees again before Gillane scored from play and Sean Kennedy levelled it for the sixth time.
Mary I had a slight breeze at their backs in the first half and it looked as though it would be advantage NUIG heading into the second half.
However, in the second minute of added time at the end of the half Jack Fitzpatrick hauled Colin Guilfoyle down in the area.
Gillane stepped up to shoot low under Shane Hennessy’s legs. Niland scored a free in reply but NUIG were 1-8 to 0-9 behind at half-time.
Gillane scored first again on the resumption but NUIG were level again by the 37th minute. Niland scored three-in-a-row to leave it 1-9 to 0-12.
Inevitably Gillane provided the reprieve, Niland hit straight back for NUIG again. It was end-to-end with Gillane and Niland trading scores again twice. But crucially Luke Meade fired over in the 49th minute and Guilfoyle doubled up on that.
Concannon reduced the deficit but Gary Cooney and Colin O’Brien pushed Mary I 1-16 to 0-15 in front.
NUIG began chased the game before a late David Prendergast fetch from a Whelan cross ensured Mary I sealed their place in the final.
Scorers for Mary Immaculate College: A Gillane 1-12 (0-7f, 0-1 sl), C O’Brien 0-2, G Cooney 0-1, T Monaghan 0-1, L Meade 0-1, C Guilfoyle 0-1.
Scorers for NUIG: E Niland 0-13 (0-10f), B Concannon 0-2, C Whelan 0-1, L Forde 0-1, S Kennedy 0-1.
Mary Immaculate College: E Cahill (Birr); D Prendergast (Lismore), D Browne (Kanturk), E Ryan (Cappawhite Gaels); C Morgan (Kilruane McDonaghs), S Downey (Clonlara), T Grimes (Na Piarsaigh); P Hickey (Nenagh Éire Óg), L Meade (Newcestown); A Gillane (Patrickswell), T Monaghan (Craughwell), C O’Brien (Liscarroll); G Cooney (O’Callaghan Mills), C Guilfoyle (Newmarket-on-Fergus), M O’Loughlin (Clonlara).
Subs: B Buckley (Shandrum) for Hickey (33), Hickey for Buckley (half-time), R McCormack (Borris-Ileigh) for O’Loughlin (41), Buckley for Hickey (53), S Burke (Grenagh) for O’Brien (53), Hickey fort Buckley (57), Buckley for Cooney (59).
NUIG: S Hennessy (Éire Óg Nenagh); A Greaney (Craughwell), J Fitzpatrick (Killimordaly), D Connolly (Killimordaly); S Loftus (Turloughmore), C Caulfield (Kilconieron), P Hoban (Loughrea); I Fox (Sarsfields), B Concannon (Killimordaly); M Lynch (Kilnadeema-Leitrim), L Forde (Ardrahan), S Kennedy (Kilmaley); C Sheedy (Roscrea), C Whelan (Kinvara), E Niland (Clarinbridge).
Subs: D Burke (St Thomas’) for Lynch (27), B Corry (Sixmilebridge) for Greaney (half-time), S McArdle (Clarinbridge) for Fox (36), S Fletcher (Roscrea) for Kennedy (52).
Referee: Johnny Ryan (Tipperary).