SELECTING what you believe is the best 15 players from any era is always an immensely difficult task.
You are never going to get across the board approval and that’s the way it should be, it’s one person’s opinion and everyone is entitled to that.
UCC have won the Fitzgibbon Cup on 42 occasions, an incredible record, so try and get your best 15 from those teams.
Now that would be an impossible task altogether and we are certainly not going to even go near trying it.
From those 42 teams you could probably select about 10 different ones who would qualify as the best 15.
GAA Development Officer in the college, John Grainger is one of the most successful players the Western Road college has ever had, winning five titles in a row in 1983, ’84, ’85, ’86 and ’87.
As GAA officer he has been associated with five more winning teams in the 2000s.
So, what he has done is select the best team from those 10 winning teams. Still not an easy task!
“We have always had very good goalkeepers in the college, Anthony Nash and Ger Cotter just two, but the one I have chosen from my years is Darren McCarthy from Ballymartle.
“He was a winning captain in 2012 and 2013 and gave great leadership and instilled great confidence into the backs in front of him.
“At right corner-back, Shane O’Neill has to be an automatic choice and at full-back I would put in a very dependable player, Shane O’Connell from St Catherine’s.
“I would put Kilian Murphy from Erin’s Own in the other corner, he was an out and out defender and a great man in the tackle.
“Cathal Casey was a quality hurler, an All-Ireland medal winner with Cork, and he is my choice at right wing-back, a top player.
“The choice at centre-back would be automatic too, Pat Hartnett from Midleton. He was some player, very brave, a brilliant hurler, he had it all, a proven player at every level of the game.
“On the left, and this might surprise some, but I’d choose Ollie Kearney from Lismire. When he came to the college nobody knew much about him but he certainly proved himself.
“He was a great marker and he turned out to be what you’d describe as an unsung hero in the team that he played with. He’s the choice there.”
A Cork man and a Tipperary man form Grainger’s midfield partnership.
“The late and great Paul O’Connor from Na Piarsaigh gets one of the shirts. What a great player, very classy, he had it all.
“Alongside him I have selected Ian Conroy from Tipperary. He had a great engine, he really bought into Canon O’Brien’s Fitzgibbon Cup beliefs.”
To the six forwards.
“I have chosen Tipp’s Dan McCormack at right half-forward. He’s now a key man for Liam Sheedy and I believe the Fitzgibbon shot him up the ladder. He’s a great man to break up the play, to set up others for scores.
“On the 40 I have no hesitation in selecting Shane Conway from Kerry. He’s an incredible player, great vision, great wrists, cool under pressure and he got some great scores for us this year and last.
“Selecting the other wing -forward was the easiest of all and that spot goes to Nicky English. One of the great forwards of all time, I played with him in those years when the college won eight-in-a-row. He was one of the best of all time.
“At right corner-forward I have chosen Stephen Moylan from Douglas. The message from the Canon used always be, get the ball into Moylan. He was a great reader of the game, a great Fitzgibbon Cup hurler.
“At full-forward I would have no hesitation in choosing Mark Foley from Argideen Rangers and this has nothing to do with the 2-7 he got for Cork in a Munster final in 1990.
“Mark started as a corner-back but he was the type of player who was very adaptable. He was a big man on the edge of the square, good wrists and another who loved playing in the Fitzgibbon.
“At number 15 I am choosing Tomas Fitzgibbon from Killeagh. He was taken from us far too soon but he took fierce pride in playing in the Fitzgibbon.
“He was a relative of the man whose name the cup is named after, Brother Edwin Fitzgibbon and he took great pride in that. He certainly made the best of his time with us.
“In selecting those 15 players I realise there are so many left out but I must stress it’s from the ten years that I was involved with, five as a player and the five we won in my time as the GAA administrator in the college. Hopefully there will be many more winning teams.”
Grainger spoke very highly too of the various coaches he has worked with, Paul O’Connor, Eddie English and currently Tom Kingston, just to name three. However, he has no hesitation in naming his number one.
“Yes, the Canon, Fr Michael O’Brien was the greatest of them all. He had this unique way of getting the best out of every player, the greats, the good and the average, a great motivator who loved Fitzgibbon Cup hurling.
“He was a special person and one of the greatest coaches of them all.”
UCC team selected by John Grainger:
Darren McCarthy; Shane O’Neill, Shane O’Connell, Killian Murphy; Cathal Casey, Pat Hartnett, Ollie Kearney; Paul O’Connor, Ian Conroy; Dan McCormack, Shane Conway, Nicky English; Stephen Moylan, Mark Foley, Tomas Fitzgibbon.
The late and great Paul O’ Connor from Na Piarsaigh gets one of the shirts. What a great player, very classy, he had it all.