THE end margin may have flattered UL slightly, as four late unanswered points added gloss to their Fitzgibbon Cup quarter-final win, and conceals a battling display by a UCC team that were light on physique and experience in comparison to their opponents.
But there was no mistaking UL’s superiority, which manifested itself in the opening stages and was ruthlessly confirmed when they accelerated for home in the final straight.
With Ger Cunningham and Cian O’Neill presiding over matters on the sideline, UL translated their good form in the group stages into fluent hurling in the knock-out arena.
They will stride forward to Friday week’s semi-final against Waterford IT in a state of high confidence, buoyed by the knowledge that they possess a team loaded with heavy artillery.
Their side has been bolstered this year by the presence of fresh faces, with Tipperary senior Willie Ryan in vibrant form here as he inked 1-9 next to his name on the scoresheet and Offaly’s Shane Dooley grabbing a crucial goal from his corner-forward berth.
The Tipperary influx to their defence is also serving them well with John Devane a model of strength at centre-back and Paddy Stapleton combative in the corner.
But the influence of the mainstays of last year’s team has not been diluted either. As the match progressed here Brian Carroll and Ryan O’Dwyer flourished in the half-forward line and skilfully picked off seven points between them. While Devane was flanked by two wonderful half-backs in Kieran Joyce and Seamus Hickey, and it was no coincidence that UCC withdrew two-thirds of their half-forward line before the finish.
Despite all the strong facets of UL’s team, it was wholehearted and keenly-contested fare for a large chunk of this clash. That was due to the persistence and resilience of UCC, whose starting 15 had undergone an extreme makeover before this game.
They started with a completely new full-back line as the Kearney twins flanked Ballymartle’s Seamus Corry. The trio may have been young but they were ferociously competitive and it was notable that UL’s full-forward line only struck one point from play over the hour. UCC were without Kevin Hartnett, as college commitments saw him in the USA, so Aidan Quilligan slotted into the centre-back berth, while there was a new midfield pairing of Waterford senior Richie Foley and Tipperary’s Michael Cahill.
The key moment in the opening period arrived in the 7th minute when Willie Ryan unleashed a blistering drive to the net and that score enabled UL to keep UCC at arm’s length for the majority of the half.
UL were able to source plenty of possession for their attack but some heroic UCC defending kept the score count low, while up front the Cork college’s forwards were masters of economy in front of goal. They extracted a score from the majority of their attacks and only trailed 1-5 to 0-5 after the first quarter.
Edging towards the interval UL stretched 1-8 to 0-6 in front but super late points by Luke O’Farrell and Stephen Moylan, UCC’s most prominent forwards on the day, left them only three adrift at the break.
In the second half UCC kept in touch initially but the course of the game was defined by the outcome of goals chances at either end. UCC came up short in the 31st minute when Robert White’s placed effort rolled just past the post and to twist the knife further, UL grabbed their second when Dooley batted home a Ryan sideline in the 40th minute.
At the end of the third quarter UL were 2-14 to 0-12 in front, when UCC finally hit the net when Moylan bundled home. But they required more goals and a marvellous block by Conor Fogarty denied O’Farrell late on. UL’s marksmanship was of a high standard and a string of late points sealed their progression.
Scorers for UL: W Ryan 1-9 (0-9f), S Dooley 1-0, B Carroll 0-4, R O’Dwyer 0-3, N O’Murchu 0-2, M Walsh, M Ruth 0-1 each.
UCC: S Moylan 1-6 (0-5f, 0-1 ’65), L O’Farrell, R Foley (0-1f) 0-2 each, B O’Sullivan, R White, B Beckett 0-1 each.
UL: T Lowry (Tipperary); P Stapleton (Tipperary), M Malone (Kilkenny), C Fogarty (Kilkenny); K Joyce (Kilkenny), J Devane (Tipperary), S Hickey (Limerick); M Walsh (Kilkenny), N O Murchíú (Waterford); T Connors (Waterford), R O’Dwyer (Tipperary), B Carroll (Offaly); W Ryan (Tipperary), M Ruth (Kilkenny), S Dooley (Offaly).
Subs: M Whelan (Laois) for Devane (inj) (48), A Quinn (Clare) for Connors (51), P Murphy (Tipperary) for Ryan (58).
UCC: M Collins (Cork); D Kearney (Cork), S Corry (Cork), W Kearney (Cork); J Jordan (Cork), A Quilligan (Clare), E Martin (Wexford); M Cahill (Tipperary), R Foley (Waterford); B O’Sullivan (Limerick), B Beckett (Kilkenny), R White (Cork); S Moylan (Cork), L O’Farrell (Cork), G Mulcahy (Limerick).
Subs: S Burke (Tipperary) for Mulcahy (38), J Halbert for Beckett (43), D Honan (Clare) for O’Sullivan (54).
Referee: Jason O’Mahony (Limerick)
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