Lee reins in Canning as LIT rocked
Galway defender John Lee put the shackles on his county team-mate Joe Canning as hosts NUIG shocked overwhelming favourites Limerick IT at Dangan yesterday.
Canning did not score from play until he landed a point in extra-time and, while the quality of ball into him was poor, Lee dealt with the threat sufficiently to give NUIG a fighting chance.
And they seized the opportunity to book a place in today's final as they bid to bridge a 30-year gap since they lifted their ninth crown.
And yet Canning could have won it in the dying seconds but he saw a rasping 21-yard free fly over rather than under the bar, having earlier skewed a similar one wide in the early stages of the second-half of normal time.
But NUIG deserved their victory after a pulsating contest where Canning still managed to hit 0-13 even if he looked well below his best.
Seamus Callanan, Willie Hyland, Nick O'Connell and James McInerney also had their moments for LIT but none delivered consistently.
In contract, Lee was superb for NUIG throughout and so too were Seamus Hennessy, John Conlon, Finian Coone, Barry Daly and sub Caimin Morey, while wing-back Patrick Kelly produced a storming second-half.
NUIG got a huge boost in the second minute when Clare U-21 Cormac O'Donovan fired home a goal, but Hyland's accuracy hauled LIT back into contention.
The sides were level six times in the opening half as Canning and Coone regularly exchanged pointed frees, but there were also some quality scores from play from Conlon and Daly for NUIG and from Hyland and Paudie O'Brien for LIT.
The teams were level at 1-8 to 0-11 at the break but NUIG got a great start to the second-half with points from Domhnall O'Donovan, David Barrett and Coone while in between Canning uncharacteristically skewed a 21-yard free goal opportunity wide.
Canning recovered by landing sidelines from either side but NUIG were more hungry and should have pulled away. However, a final wides tally of 18 allowed Limerick IT stay in the contest.
And the title favourites seemed poised to finish strongly when sub Timmy Dalton found the net with six minutes remaining when a long free broke kindly off corner-forward Bernard Gaffney to level the match.
The large crowd were treated to a superb finale with Hennessy and Canning exchanging points before Sean Collins pointed in the final minute to put Limerick IT in front.
But NUIG rallied and Hennessy squared the match with a magnificent point from the left touchline before NUIG's Barrett was harshly red-carded for a wild pull.
NUIG led by 1-21 to 1-20 at the interval in extra-time but points from Shane Quinlan, Coone and Kelly were enough in the end to send them through as Canning's last-gasp effort failed to rescue the favourites.
SCORERS -- NUI Galway: F Coone (0-3f), J Conlon (0-4f) 0-5 each, C O'Donovan 1-0, S Hennessy (0-1f), D O'Donovan, D Barrett, B Daly, G Kelly, C Morey 0-2 each, P Kelly, S Quinlan 0-1 each. Limerick IT: J Canning 0-13 (0-9f, 0-2 s/l, 0-1 '65), W Hyland 0-3, T Dalton 1-0, S Collins , N Quinn 0-2 each, P O'Brien, N O'Connell, B Gaffney 0-1 each.
NUI Galway -- D Tuohy; D Nash, J Lee, D Connolly; P Gordon, S Hennessy, P Kelly; B Daly, D O'Donovan; D Barrett, K Keehan, C O'Donovan; G Kelly, J Conlon, F Coone. Subs: C Morey for Keehan, (37), S Quinlan for C O'Donovan (47), JP O'Connell for Kelly (56).
Limerick IT -- M Ryan; C Chaplin, C Cooney, J Gunning; N O'Connell, J McInerney, R Sherlock; P O'Brien, S Collins; N Quinn, S Callanan, W Hyland; S Tobin, J Canning, B Gaffney. Subs: J O'Keeffe for Sherlock (27), T Dalton for O'Brien (36).
Ref -- B Gavin (Offaly).