Cregan: Loss paves way for future glory
UCC 2-17 Mary I 2-12
FITZGIBBON CUP (sh) FINAL
The very nature of colleges sport means that squads change every year but Mary Immaculate manager Eamonn Cregan believes that the remarkable run by his side this season will pave the way for future glory.
The Limerick college has a mere 2,500 students – with only around 300 of them male – but Cregan has managed to create a formidable side out of those resources.
While their dream died against a stronger UCC at Pearse Stadium on Saturday, the former Limerick player and manager believes they will come back stronger.
"It has been a fantastic year for us and I am very proud of them," Cregan said. "We thought coming in we had a chance – especially when we had Declan Hannon and Conor Cooney available – but, unfortunately, we made silly mistakes at times which turned into points for them. That is the difference at this level, you can't make mistakes.
"The semi-final took its toll. If you have a big panel you can overcome that but we have only 30 players and, of those, we would be depending on about 20.
"But we did the best we could. I was very proud the way they came back after going six points down but this is a team with loads of heart and that is what got us to the final – heart and intelligence."
UCC manager Eddie Enright dedicated the victory to Paul O'Connor, a Fitzgibbon legend who guided them to their 40th success last year but who passed away in September.
Enright, a selector in 2012, said that O'Connor was never far from their thoughts throughout the year. "It was a difficult year for UCC hurling club. We lost our inspiration and he is still in our thoughts and minds.
"He motivated us a lot during the year and we are delighted that we could do this for him," said the former Tipperary star.
Enright maintained their ability to strike for goals in the second half was crucial in helping them retain their title.
"We got a few openings in the second half and took them, the goals were crucial and the guys finished them well," he said. "It left them playing catch-up but they responded well to Conor Lehane's goal and we had to go and win it again."
"The semi-final against UCD was very physical and was a lot tighter than the scoreline suggested. We drew with Mary I during the year and we knew how they were and how well they would be prepared. We knew they had good forwards and we conceded more in the final than we did all year," Enright added.
Both sides struggled to get high intensity into their play in the opening half, with their exertions in the previous day's semi-finals clearly taking their toll.
Mary I got a big boost before the game when Limerick star Hannon – sent off after just nine minutes of their epic semi-final win over Waterford IT – was successful in an appeal and was able to line out for the side at centre-back.
UCC – with Cork senior Lehane again deadly from frees – led by 0-9 to 0-7 at the interval.
Cooney, released by Galway champions St Thomas' ahead of their All-Ireland club final, got three points in that opening half but a goal from Lehane after a strong run by Brian Harnett helped push the holders six points to the good after 40 minutes.
John Conlon, who scored the winning point in the final at the same venue for NUIG three years ago, responded with a goal from a 20-metre free for Mary I, which cut the margin to a point.
But UCC pulled away again and wrapped up their 41st crown when Seamus Harnedy pounced on a mistake to shoot their second goal into the top-left corner from a tight angle seven minutes from time.
Mary I did not give up and Cooney blasted another 20-metre free to the roof of the net in the closing stages but, by then, UCC, giving a fine performance from a balanced side that improved as the competition progressed, had done enough to hold on.
Scorers – UCC: C Lehane 1-9 (0-7f), S Harnedy 1-1, W Egan, B O'Sullivan 0-2 each, D McCormack, P Haughney, A Breen 0-1 each. Mary I: J Conlon 1-4 (1-3f), C Cooney 1-3 (1-0f), S Curran 0-3, L O'Farrell 0-2.
UCC – D McCarthy; S Maher, D Glynn, K Murphy; J Barry, D Fives, W Egan; P Haughney, B Murray; S Harnedy, D McCormack, Brian Lawton; B O'Sullivan, C Lehane, B Harnett. Subs: Barry Lawton for Murray (46), A Breen for McCormack (51), W Griffin for O'Sullivan (55).
Mary Immaculate – S Nolan; C Fennessy, R O'Donnell, A Ryan; J Wall, D Hannon, Eanna Hogan; C Galvin, N O'Meara; B O'Halloran, W Hickey, C Cooney; S Curran, J Conlon, L O'Farrell. Subs: Eoin Hogan for Hickey (51), L Considine for Eanna Hogan (55).
Ref – B Kelly (Westmeath)