THEIR progress this season has taken many by surprise, including some in their own camp, but UCC have gained confidence throughout the SFC and that was reflected in their controlled display to overcome Avondhu in Saturday night’s semi-final tie in Páirc Uí Rinn.
The myriad of commitments their players face seemed destined to hinder their prospects but good fortune and a knack of winning tight games propelled them to the last four stage. With a full squad available to them, they exploited the opportunity and overcame an Avondhu team who were brimming with confidence after toppling Nemo Rangers in the previous round.
“College football is very funny, it’s a case of just trying to get things right during the year,” remarked UCC manager Paul O’Keeffe afterwards.
“In most of our games this year we’ve scraped through and definitely had that element of luck. I always find that you can come a cropper in semi-finals and that was my worry tonight. So we’re just very happy with the result.”
The game was a low-key affair which seldom burst into life. UCC constructed a two-point advantage, 0-5 to 0-3, after the opening quarter and maintained that cushion throughout. When the stakes were raised in the final quarter, UCC kicked four of the game’s last five points to pull clear before the final whistle.
Avondhu’s journey through this campaign has largely been aided by some stellar attacking shows from Cian O’Riordan and Tom Monaghan but crucially their threats were blotted out by the college. Neither managed to raise a flag from play with Peter Crowley terrific at full-back in nullifying O’Riordan and Matthew Galvin was excellent in policing Monaghan.
Avondhu were hit by the absence of that scoring power, relying on Paudie Kissane and Eamonn O’Connor to provide the inspiration. But ultimately their shooting was poor as they chalked up 11 wides and a UCC team that had been leaking goals, seven in their three previous games, tightened up significantly.
For UCC, they had the best attackers on on the night. Daithí Casey’s freetaking was extremely accurate and he launched over a beautiful point from play in the second half. Alongside him in the full-forward line, Paul Geaney was outstanding. The Dingle youngster was not part of the Sigerson Cup squad earlier in the year as he was a Fresher but he has been a key asset in the county championship arena. He floated over three points from play, was also fouled for two frees that Casey converted and posed problems for the Avondhu defence throughout.
Avondhu tried manfully to get back into contention in the second half with Kissane their figurehead and O’Connor also in impressive form. They restructured their team after the break and it yielded a dividend as they only trailed 0-8 to 0-7 by the 42nd minute.
However that was as promising as their situation got. UCC, who also had important contributions from Johnny Buckley, Niall Daly and Mike Griffin, increased the tempo in the closing stages and Avondhu could not cope.
“It’s been the best sporting year of my life already and if we can go one step further with a county final, it would be fantastic,” said O’Keeffe.
“There are probably going to be fixture issues now with the Kerry championship but that’s something we’ve had to deal with all year. College is back now and you’ve the Sigerson training kicking in which will give the thing a bit more structure. As it was we were training one night a week up to the semi-final which was ridiculous really.
“The Sigerson win (in March) is why we’re here. The credit is due to Billy Morgan for restructuring the UCC football setup and he got the commitment from the players.”
Scorers for UCC: D Casey 0-5 (0-4fs), P Geaney 0-3, M Griffin, JB Spillane, W Kennedy, N Daly 0-1 each.
Scorers for Avondhu: P Kissane (0-1f, 0-1 45), E O’Connor 0-3 each, C O’Riordan (f), T O’Shea 0-1 each.
UCC: S Mellet (Carrigaline, Cork); M Hickey (Carrignavar, Cork), P Crowley (Laune Rangers, Kerry), M Galvin (Ballymacelligott, Kerry); T Clancy (Fermoy, Cork), N Daly (Padraig Pearses, Roscommon), S Kiely (Macroom, Cork); J Buckley (Dr Crokes, Kerry), W Kennedy (St Michael’s, Cork); J O’Sullivan (Kilcummin, Kerry), S Beston (Mitchelstown, Cork), M Griffin (Na Gaeil, Kerry); S O’Brien (Kenmare, Kerry), D Casey (Dr Crokes, Kerry), P Geaney (Dingle, Kerry).
Subs: JB Spillane (Castlegregory, Kerry) for O’Sullivan (18), B Coughlan (Kinsale, Cork) for Beston (40), S Hannifin (Ballyteague, Kildare) for O’Brien (56).
AVONDHU: C Conway (Clyda Rovers); N Barry (Grange), R Carey (Clyda Rovers), O O’Hanlon (Clyda Rovers); P O’Flynn (Ballyclough), P Kissane (Clyda Rovers), C O’Connell (Killavullen); H Dockery (Mallow), E Stanton (do.); J Hutchings (Fermoy), K Sheehan (Mallow), E O’Connor (Kildorrery); T Monaghan (Kildorrery), C O’Riordan (Mallow), T O’Shea (Ballyclough).
Subs: B Norris (Killavullen) for O’Hanlon (19), D Hayes (Mallow) for O’Connell (HT), V O’Donoghue (Araglin) for Sheehan (55).
Referee: Michael Collins (Clonakilty).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved