While reflecting on Tuesday’s first round Sigerson Cup rout of Cork IT, Billy Morgan revealed the UCC management had spent several hours the night previous deliberating over a starting XV.
Tim Crowley expects a similar burning of midnight oil ahead of their Fitzgibbon Cup opener this afternoon.
Put simply, there is an embarrassment of riches as far as this current crop of UCC hurlers are concerned. The problem for Ger Cunningham and his backroom team is not who to pencil in, rather who to omit.
Take Shane O’Donnell as a prime example of the difficulties encountered in trying to nail down a UCC shirt numbered one to 15, Clare’s 2013 All-Ireland final hero earning just three cameo appearances for the college during last year’s Fitzgibbon Cup campaign.
While their defensive options include several household names, the selection headache reaches a crescendo in attack, where 11 players vie for six positions — Cork seniors Alan Cadogan and Conor Lehane, four members of last year’s Cork U21 team, Anthony Spillane, Rickard Cahalane, Rob O’Shea and Shane O’Keefe, 2014 All-Ireland intermediate medal-winner Barry Lawton, Clare’s Shane O’Donnell and Waterford trio Jamie Barron, DJ Foran and Tom Devine all figure in contention.
A welcome headache, quips selector Crowley.
“It is a hugely difficult task to decide on a starting 15 anytime we go out to play because you do have a lot of very, very talented players,” said three-time All-Ireland hurling medal-winner Crowley.
“They have all worked very hard and the challenge for us was to give them all as much game-time as possible in league matches, challenges and Waterford Crystal games. What we, the management, are trying to do is strike a balance in the team and to see what is the best team we can put out. It is a difficult task, but it is a better position to be in rather than have a shortfall in talented hurlers.
“Everyone on the panel is putting in a tremendous amount of work to try and force their way onto the team. All we can do is gauge whose form is good at present. That changes though from week to week at the moment because the players could be under pressure with study and inter-county commitments. There are a lot of pulls on individual players at this level.”
Mind you, blending together the finest talent in the province hasn’t proven an issue.
“They are excellent hurlers and are very receptive to the type of coaching they are getting from Noel Furlong and Sean McGrath. They are all friends, more importantly, they all want to play for UCC. They know the hurling elite play Fitzgibbon. They know the proud tradition and history of the university when it comes to hurling.”
Ger Cunningham and Crowley first dipped their toes into third-level waters when agreeing to oversee the UCC freshers in September 2010. Four successive All-Ireland crowns were delivered and so it was merely a matter of time before the offer to manage the Fitzgibbon team arrived.
“Last year was the first year we didn’t win the freshers outright, we were beaten in the semi-final. The majority of the lads you’ll see against GMIT passed through myself and Ger’s hands. We had them all at freshers. The familiarity of working with them before helps. They know our methods and we know their style. Some players mature as hurlers at different rates to others so we have to be conscious of that too.”
UCC’s pre-Christmas league run concluded in a final defeat to DJ Carey’s IT Carlow outfit (3-21 to 1-18), their Waterford Crystal Cup campaign running aground at Kilmallock last Saturday.
“The Waterford Crystal was very useful in that it gave us two weekends of hurling directly after Christmas. We had a good win over Kerry, played well against Limerick but they just pulled away at the end. We were happy with our performance last week, the difference was Limerick were physically stronger and had better hurlers than us in key areas.”
He added: “I don’t believe last year’s semi-final defeat and the failed three-in-a-row bid is the driving motivation for the lads this year. You have to move on and the lads will be solely focused on progressing as far as they can. That starts against GMIT.”
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