Resilience, belief but most of all heart — 13-man UCC ticking all three boxes in defying their underdog status and securing a place in this evening’s Sigerson Cup decider.
Billy Morgan, realising full well what his UCC charges had just achieved, described it as the greatest victory of his five-year tenure.
“We’ve had some good ones down the years, but this probably has to rank as our greatest triumph,” smiled Morgan.
“The lads put it all out there today, the guts they showed in that second-half against the wind and with only 13 men, the resilience they showed; their fight was unbelievable.”
The Cork university enjoyed the elements in the opening period at the Dub, but struggled to capitalise on the wind advantage and held only a slender 1-6 to 0-6 interval advantage. Corner-forward Paul Geaney kicked 1-3, his sixth minute goal, teed-up by Alan Cronin, finished clinically beyond Maynooth keeper Mark Donnellan, with Conor Cox (0-3) accounting the rest of UCC’s first-half tally.
The general consensus, however, suggested their three-point lead would prove insufficient and so it looked when Maynooth’s Paddy McBrearty (free) and Paddy Brophy kicked early second-half points to reduce the deficit to the minimum.
On 37 minutes, disaster struck for UCC as referee Barry Cassidy issued a red card to centre-forward Cronin for an off the ball incident with Maynooth corner-back David Hyland. Sean O’Toole’s outfit seized on their numerical advantage, with Brophy and McBrearty converting from placed balls to move Maynooth in front for the first time.
UCC, to their credit, refused to yield and responded through Quinlivan and Cox to regain the lead – the latter superbly executing a 40 yard free with the outside of the right boot. A second blow, however, happened upon UCC’s door entering the final quarter as full-forward Michael Quinlivan, having picked up a yellow card just moments earlier, was black-carded for a tackle on Hyland.
Reduced to 13-men, the already mountainous task facing Morgan’s outfit now appeared insurmountable. But, as Conor Cox alluded to after the game, the belief instilled into this group of players by the former Cork manager knows no bounds. And so it proved.
The Listowel Emmetts man sliced over another free ten minutes out to leave matters finely poised at 1-10 to 0-10. Tom Clancy, with a surging run from deep, and Paddy McBrearty exchanged efforts in the ensuing passages of play, but from there to the finish there was only one team in it.
It should have been Maynooth, with two extra men, pushing forward at every turn, exhausting every sinew to claw back the deficit, instead, UCC, with their tails up, landed three unanswered points on the home stretch – David Culhane, Sean Kiely and Cox (the outside of the boot again employed to devastating fashion) – to seal the unlikeliest and yet the most merited of victories.
Central to the win was the non-impact of Maynooth midfielder and player of the year Michael Darragh MacAuley and credit here must be afforded to UCC’s midfield partnership of David Nation and Ian McGuire — two selfless shifts were clocked.
Morgan, as noted, couldn’t praise his dogged troops enough, but took umbrage with the two sending-offs, in particular the red card brandished to Alan Cronin.
“I known Alan very well and he doesn’t have a dirty bone in his body. We were told that Alan punched him in the testicles and for the other player then to only get a yellow for punching Alan in the face, I don’t know. Again with Michael I couldn’t see the reasoning for the black card which led to his dismissal.
“The team as a whole fought for every ball, defended stoutly and then broke up the field at every turn. They finished remarkably. It should have been us holding out at the end and yet we were attacking, driving forward at every opportunity with only 13 men. We could have easily hit two goals as well. It is happiness in the extreme.
“To go and finish the job is the task now.”
Scorers for UCC: C Cox (0-7, 0-4 frees); P Geaney (1-3); M Quinlivan, T Clancy, D Culhane, S Kiely (0-1 each).
Scorers for NUI Maynooth: P McBrearty (0-6, 0-3 frees); E Wallace (0-2); P Brophy (0-2, 0-1 free) P Cribben, P Faulkner (0-1 each)
UCC (Cork unless stated): B Kelly (Kerry); D Culhane, E O’Mahony, F McNamara (Kerry); T Clancy, C Dorman, B Shanahan; D Nation, I McGuire; L Connolly, A Cronin, B O’Driscoll; C Cox (Kerry), M Quinlivan (Tipperary), P Geaney (Kerry).
Subs: S Kiely (Cork) for Nation (45 mins), S Keane (Kerry) for Connolly (45 mins).
NUI Maynooth: M Donnellan (Kildare); E Mullan (Dublin), P Faulkner (Cavan), D Hyland (Kildare); E Lowdnes (Dublin), J Gonoud (Westmeath), F Conway (Kildare); MD MacAuley (Dublin), D Kelly (Donegal); P Cribben (Kildare), R Kennedy (Leitrim), D Burke (Kildare); E Wallace (Meath); P McBrearty (Donegal), P Brophy (Kildare).
Subs: S Mattimoe (Meath) for Kennedy (38 mins).
Referee: B Cassidy (Derry).
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