Cregan's Mary I stay the distance after epic final
Mary I 1-30 UL 3-22
Published 29/02/2016 | 02:30
For a brief moment at the end of extra-time, the players of Mary I and University of Limerick shook hands at Cork IT's grounds in Bishopstown in the belief they would have to do it all again.
It was a fair assumption to make, given that UL had won this competition last year after a replay.
But when the announcement came over the PA system that they would play a second period of extra-time - two five-minute halves - it meant that the players were facing into two and a half hours of hurling in 24 hours.
Around the same time, Congress was winding up. Over in Carlow they had taken some steps towards tidying up the calendar but ultimately the nettle wasn't grasped.
The Fitzgibbon final wasn't an advertisement for the scheduling of the competition but it did produce an epic. As man of the match Declan Hannon reflected: "That was one of the most unbelievable games I have played in."
There's not enough space here to do the game justice. The sides were level an incredible 19 times and Mary I looked to have it won at both the end of normal time and the first period of extra-time. Still UL fought back on both occasions.
Tipperary's Tommy Heffernan, a sub who didn't appear until the 42nd minute, finished the day with six points, one of which forced extra-time. They went tit-for-tat in extra-time and again Brian Lohan's UL found a way out of trouble.
This time, John McGrath kept his cool to point a free to force the second period of extra-time - this following the brief confusion where the players had resigned themselves to a replay. Incidentally, it was the second day in a row in which McGrath had found the net twice.
After the first half of extra-time, the sides were level yet again though UL's Alan Murphy had the crowd on its feet when his shot looked like it had ripped the net when in fact it found only the side netting.
And as the clock ticked into the 88th minute, they were still tied before a Darragh O'Donovan free and Cian Lynch's fifth point of the day finally broke UL's resistance and handed Eamonn Cregan's Mary I an historic first Fitzgibbon Cup title.
"I went up the corner away from it," Cregan reflected. "I couldn't take the pressure, it was so… you'd go down, they'd score a point, you'd come back up and we'd score a point then they would go down and score a point. It is not good for the heart.
"The way it happened, it is just fantastic. It would be up there with the 1973 All-Ireland, without a shadow of a doubt, because of the way they hung in - we went ahead, we lost the lead, we went behind, we came back, we went ahead, we lost the lead.
"But we kept on coming back and it just shows the tremendous heart that the team have."
Mary I are only relative newcomers to this level of hurling but Cregan's association with them goes back much further than that. But, after all Saturday's drama, he revealed that he was ending his stint as manager.
"(They showed) tremendous heart and a belief in themselves that they could win it. This is a team that I had as Freshers and they came up along the ranks. I am getting emotional now at the moment. We didn't train very hard, but this is a team, as I said, they came from Tipperary, Clare, Cork, Limerick and Galway.
"They gelled as a unit for Mary I. That is the soul of the Mary I. When they come into Mary I, they are part and parcel of the college. We knew we had good players, but it was about producing it on the field. They certainly did that.
"This goes back to one person, Noreen Lynch. She kept the GAA going in Mary I. Only for her, today wouldn't have happened. I came in and helped her in 1993. And she kept it going. This is the culmination of a fantastic year for Mary I."
Scorers - Mary I: D Hannon 1-12 (9f), C Lynch 0-5, S Linnane, D O'Donovan (1f), D Reidy 0-3 each, T Gallagher, J Meagher, S Cahill, D Corry 0-1 each.
UL: J McGrath 2-7 (0-5f, 0-1 65), T Heffernan 0-6, T Morrissey 1-1, C Martin, K Hehir, A McGuane 0-2 each, J Forde, C McInerney 0-1 each.
MARY I: M Ó Conghaile; E Quirke, R English, A Ryan; R Maher, T Stapleton, J Meagher; C Galvin, D O'Donovan; S Linnane, C Lynch, D Reidy; D Hannon, N O'Meara, D Corry. Subs: M O'Neill for Galvin (42), T Gallacher for Corry (51), S Cahill for O'Donovan (54), S Kennedy for Linnane (60), D Corry for Quirke (start of extra-time), O'Donovan for O'Meara (70, inj), S Linnane for Gallagher (75), Gallagher for Hannon (80).
UL: P Maher; G Ryan, J Browne, S Roche; B Heffernan, J Forde, B Stapleton; A McGuane, K Hehir; D Fitzgerald, J McGrath, C Martin; K O'Brien, T Morrissey, C McInerney. Subs: T Heffernan for Fitzgerald (42), G Hegarty for Stapleton (45), A Murphy for O'Brien (58), M Casey for Hehir, P Ryan for Forde (both 60), B Maher for McGuane (72).
Ref - J Owens (Wexford).