Tuesday 24 April 2018

'I couldn't leave UL without a medal' - Clare's Brendan Bugler on the 'special place' which the Fitzgibbon Cup holds for him

Brendan Bugler
Brendan Bugler

Michael Verney

WHEN Kieran Joyce lifted the Independent.ie Fitzgibbon Cup aloft in 2011 after UL's dramatic comeback against cross-city rivals Limerick IT there was no man happier than Brendan Bugler as third-level's promised land had finally been reached.

Bugler didn't realise it at the time but the whole Castletroy campus was behind him in his quest for an elusive Fitzgibbon Cup medal which spanned two courses and a six-year term in the University of Limerick.

A real student of the game, the two-time All-Star is UL to its very core and even before enrolling in a Wood Science degree in September 2004 he followed the fortunes of his brother John, even taking the odd day off school to do so in his teens.

"All during my years in secondary school I'd be taking days off going watching Fitzgibbon games, you'd be watching the team that won in 2002, you had the likes of John Devane, who was a first year," Bugler says.

"And then I was there a few years later when he was in fourth year and I was playing alongside him. You knew the history of the place, you knew Brian Lohan and Seanie McMahon had both been on the '94 team and you were looking at all the big names and thinking of emulating them some day."

First years are no longer permitted to play Fitzgibbon Cup but the Whitegate defender nailed down a place despite just coming through the doors and his maiden Fitzgibbon Cup voyage almost ended in glory only for an Eoin Kelly-inspired LIT in the 2005 final.

Bugler recalls that year fondly. "It was some craic, we'd an average enough team. We'd a manger at the start of the year and he was gone by Christmas, we were left with no manager. They approached Ger Cunningham and he came in," he says.

"Ger had just won a club All-Ireland with Newtownshandrum and here we were with an average team and next thing Ger introduced the running game. Sure I was delighted because the guys in the full-back line were the only lads who had the license to just lamp it up the field."

He recalls the "intense hatred" with Davy Fitzgerald's LIT at the time but after tasting final defeat Bugler wouldn't get another chance to make amends during his four-year stint as they endured some barren years and never made it back to a decider.

"It was hard, I got to a final in first year and we hadn't a great team but we had a tight group with a great bond. We had better teams the next three years and we didn't get back there," Bugler says of his Fitzgibbon Cup dream initially slipping by.

UL's next final appearance would be in 2009 where they proved no match for UCC but Bugler was there in Parnell Park and commiserated with his former team-mates on the pitch after. Such was his status in the Limerick college you could tell he was hurting as much as any of the players.

There was an itch bothering him, he "couldn't leave UL without a Fitzgibbon Cup" and eventually the Banner man got accepted to complete his Teaching Dip in September 2010 and as fate would have it, they ended up in the final in Waterford the following February.

In the opposite corner was his old friend Fitzgerald, who would take over as Clare manager later that year, and that made it all the sweeter when Thomas O'Brien pilfered a late goal to break LIT hearts and end a nine-year barren spell for UL.

Bugler was at the heart of the euphoric scenes thereafter as a dream which he wouldn't let die was finally achieved. It may have taken a little longer and went down an extended path but it meant too much to give up on.

"It's one of these special competitions where you've guys who would cut the throat off each other when they're playing against each other at county or club but when they're representing the college there's a special bond that's hard to describe," he says.

"Lads will do anything for each other, it's not just in UL, every college is the same and that's why everyone loves playing Fitzgibbon Cup. It's not necessarily a competition which indulges in a massive amount of skill or tactics, a lot of it is just pure passion.

"What I enjoyed most about it was the playing with guys from different counties and learning from them. People in different counties have different mentalities and they have different ideas so you'd always be learning from the Kilkenny, Tipp or Galway lads.

"You were always picking things up. Like the Kilkenny lads could never understand why someone in my position would bat the ball because it's bred into them to go up and catch the bloody thing. They were like 'put up your hand will you'.

Bugler, who actually managed the UL Freshers team in second year, made friends for life and maintains a strong affiliation with the college, always keeping up to date with their progress, and his Fitzgibbon Cup experiences will be cherished forever.

"The craic of it all," he says. "Guys have been living at home for years and they're unleashed in college and getting to know new people. And guys enjoy the few drinks after a game, it's a whole new experience.

"You've extra respect for the guy you've hurled with after it. I come across lads every spring and summer that I've played with in college and they would be the first lad you'd go up to after playing them and swap jerseys and exchange a few words.

"If Clare are playing Galway it'd be David Burke, if we're playing Offaly it'd be Seanie Ryan, if we were playing Limerick it'd be Seamus Hickey. We've played together and won a Fitzgibbon together, nothing can ever break that bond."

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