UCC 1-17 DOONBEG 0-7 VETERAN Doonbeg and former Clare footballer Gerry Killeen was involved in bizarre scenes at the end of yesterday's AIB Munster club football final in Limerick's Gaelic Grounds.
Killeen, lucky to escape unpunished from two earlier off-the-ball incidents, erupted in the closing minutes to connect with head-high punches to two UCC players.
First, he swung at 'keeper Alan Quirke, and seconds later struck Eamon Hanrahan. Both players went to the ground but were not seriously injured.
Referee Brian White dismissed Killeen immediately, and on his way to the line he body-checked UCC corner-back Caoimhín Breathnach.
Before he got to the dug-out, he responded to jeers from the UCC fans by offering a two-fingered gesture and also by spitting in the direction of the stand.
Killeen, who played with Clare in their historic 1992 Munster football championship victory, had sailed close to the wind throughout the game.
Only one player UCC's Kerry senior Eamon Fitzmaurice was booked after a 26th minute incident away from play, but Killeen and his attacking colleague Brendan Lynch were also implicated.
Killeen's culpability was even more pronounced eight minutes into the second-half when his punch to Fitzmaurice seconds after play had moved up the field went unnoticed by the referee.
His 58th minute sending-off sparked an immediate domino effect. Clare senior Paul Hehir, Doonbeg's best player on a dismal day, made straight for Liam Murphy and put him to the ground to copperfasten his own sending-off.
Hehir had been involved in a number of earlier incidents and squared up to UCC players at least three times off-the-ball, without actually swinging punches.
Doonbeg will be disappointed that a bitter after-taste remains after their historic reign as Munster champions. They were beaten fairly and squarely yesterday and should have accepted the defeat without sullying their name.
Perhaps their resentment stems from a belief that UCC, as a university side, should not be permitted to enter the club championship, but this does not tally with views expressed by manager Pat Hanrahan and forward Padraig Conway.
``They were here on merit, and they came out of the Cork championship. I didn't see the incidents which led to the sendings-off,'' said Conway.
Hanrahan confirmed he had gone to the UCC dressingroom after the game to apologise for what happened.
``A few of our lads got a bit frustrated,'' he said. ``We apologised to UCC and they were fully understanding. Nobody was injured thanks be to God. It was a small bit of frustration. We will have to accept whatever disciplinary action comes our way.''
From early on, there was only going to be one winner. UCC looked an exceptional side yesterday as they knifed open Doonbeg, but it would be premature to hail them as a truly great team.
Their opponents in the All-Ireland semi-final, Crossmaglen Rangers, remain the litmus test for aspiring club teams, and the restraint with which coach Des Cullinane greeted the outcome suggested he sensed the potential for delusion in yesterday's performance.
``Crossmaglen Rangers are a step-up in standard. But we have good players and we will not be that far away,'' he said.
Cullinane tiptoed his way around the late flare-up, citing ``frustration'' as a contributing factor.
If it's possible to pick holes in the UCC performance, it relates to their wayward shooting early in the game, when the need for scores was greatest.
After 19 minutes of complete domination thanks to Gary Stack and Michael Ó Sé at midfield, UCC were still only 0-3 to 0-1 ahead, and they had posted five wides from Ian Twiss (two), Michael D Cahill, and Billy Sheehan (two).
The tide turned with Keith Moran's 23rd minute goal, and UCC shot only one more wide for the remainder of the game. Moran was on hand to slam home a rebound after Sheehan's shot was saved by 'keeper Nigel Dillon.
The quality of their inter-play improved exponentially as Doonbeg were burned off, and second-half points from Murphy (2), Paul Galvin and Michael Ó Sé were breath-taking.
Swinging the play from left to right, they spread-eagled the Doonbeg defence. Murphy was involved in everything in the Cork attack, with Twiss, Cahill, Michael O'Croinin, Moran and Sheehan all chipping in with excellent displays.
Can they do it against tighter opposition in a closer game? They have shown sufficient resolve in their precarious march to this pass to warrant a fair degree of faith.
The midfield platform was never threatened by a succession of Doonbeg pairings, apart from a brief second-half flurry by Francis McInerney. He had spent the first-half incarcerated in the full-forward line while the bulk of the play happened elsewhere.
Doonbeg might argue they needed McInerney's ball-winning ability near the UCC goal, but this was superceded yesterday by the requirement to get some clean ball at midfield.
The UCC defence was shaky last Sunday, but not yesterday. Corner-man Fionan Kelleher was innovative and assured. The entire half-back line was majestic, wing-men Galvin and Damien Reidy raiding up the field with controlled bursts on a day not suited to creative half-backs.
Fitzmaurice, despite the attention visited upon him, remained unflappable at centre-back, and he cut off Doonbeg's supply to their inside men.
Doonbeg were out of their depth in this one. Last year, they rode their luck in the final draw with Moyle Rovers and won the replay this time, they will realise they left the title behind them last Sunday when in the driving seat entering the closing minutes.
UCC have sucked desperately from the life-saving oxygen of replays. For this encounter, they remained faithful to their core values of playing quick ball into their speedy attackers, all of whom are good ball-winners.
Doonbeg only scored four points from play, three of them in the final quarter when the outcome was a mere formality. All of their defenders were taking in water from an early stage, and they suffered badly in the second phase of UCC's onslaught in the third quarter.
During that period, UCC extended their half-time lead of nine points 1-8 to 0-2 to 15 points, 1-16 to 0-4.
Paul Hehir kept trying and kicked four points in all. His brother Senan could never get with the pace of the game at midfield, and later at wing- and full-forward.
Padraig Conway beavered away in his inimitable style, but the profit margin was narrow. Doonbeg's eclipse was so total that it is impossible to find even one player who could justifiably claim he got the better of his opponent hammerings don't come much more conclusively than that.
SCORERS UCC: M O'Croinin 0-4 (4f), I Twiss 0-4, K Moran 1-1, P Galvin and L Murphy 0-2 each, B Sheehan, F Kelleher, M Ó Sé and S Downey 0-1 each. Doonbeg: P Hehir 0-4 (3f), O Conway 0-2, S Hehir 0-1.
UCC A Quirke; C Breathnach, S Mac tSithigh, F Kelleher; P Galvin, E Fitzmaurice, D Reidy; G Stack, M Ó Sé; K Moran, M O'Croinin, B Sheehan; I Twiss, L Murphy, MD Cahill. Subs: S Downey for Cahill (50), E Hanrahan for Twiss (53), P Hanley for Galvin (inj 55).
DOONBEG N Dillon; P Gallagher, C Whelan, K O'Mahoney; D Conway, K Burns, P Smith; K Nugent, S Hehir; P Hehir, B Lynch, M Conway; P Conway, F McInerney, G Killeen. Subs: O Conway for M Conway (h-t), D Tubridy for B Lynch (44), K Nugent for D Conway (57).
REF B White, Wexford.