CORK football received another timely tonic recently with UCC’s success in the Freshers Division 1 League.
It had links to the county’s All-Ireland U20 title earlier in the year in that the team was captained by Fionn Herlihy (Dohenys), who was part of Keith Ricken’s star-studded squad.
UCC defeated UL in the final by 1-19 to 0-14 after extra-time with 11 Cork players making the starting 15.
Dr Aidan Kelleher headed up a management team of coaches Liam Jennings from Ballincollig, current Cork footballer Mark Collins from Castlehaven, and Finbarr Nyhan from the College.
The Cork students went unbeaten in a campaign that started and finished with games against their UL counterparts.
UCC overcame UL by 2-11 to 1-10 in the opening group game before compiling a big score, 5-18, against IT Carlow in the second-game, when winning by 28 points.
The third game finished in a 0-10 each draw with CIT, an encounter which showed reputations count for very little in local derbies, as Kelleher explained.
“That was an eye-opener for us because they tore into us and led by 0-6 to 0-1 at half-time.
“Our guys appeared to be a bit complacent, but they knuckled down in the second half and got a draw in the end,” he said.
CIT had lost heavily to UL after starting with a big win over IT Carlow, but three points from their three group games wasn’t enough to overtake UCC or UL.
It was mission accomplished as College achieved their first aim of qualifying for the knock-out phase, a competition now down to the last eight.
College won by 2-14 to 1-9 against a strong DCU Dóchas Éireann side to set-up a semi-final with GMIT, another formidable outfit.
Clearly, the fright experienced in the first-half against CIT continued to impact because College surged nine points in front at the break and were able to rest players with the final looming large a few days later, UCC eventually winning by 3-13 to 1-13.
“The quarter-final against DCU Dochas Eireann was our best display of the season.
“It unearthed players like Brian Lynch (Douglas), Owen Lehane (Canovee) and Conor Crowley (Glanmire) who helped build the squad.
“The big difference this year was the greater depth in our squad and that was very noticeable in the final.
“I’d say the first-half of that game produced some of the best football I’d seen all year.
“We were leading 0-9 to 0-8, but UL kicked some great points with a Skibbereen player, Elliott Connolly, their stand-out performer.
“Two Kerry lads, Michael O’Gara and Rory Begley, were introduced in the second-half of the final and made their presence count during extra-time.”
Apart from Herlihy, the UCC team included the likes of Daniel O’Mahony (Knocknagree), Conor Russell (Douglas), Darragh Hayes (Carbery Rangers), Ronan Dalton (Nemo Rangers), Ian Jennings (Kilmacabea), James O’Riordan (Carbery Rangers) and Dylan Foley (Éire Óg).
Kelleher and company made an interesting switch with Foley, who moved from full-forward to goalkeeper with such ease and distinction that he made the number 1 jersey his own.
And as is the way in the modern game, Foley’s ability to give his kick-outs a right good thump up the field helped make a difference.
It was also of considerable importance that College were already blessed with a recognised number 14 in the shape of a very promising Tipperary player, Rian Quigley (Moyle Rovers), who is highly regarded.
Eoin Fitzgerald (Spa) was another player from the Kingdom to make a favourable impression.
It was UCC’s first title in six years since current Cork player, Kevin Crowley, led a side that was coached by former Kerry great Tomás Ó Sé.
In all College used 35-36 players in a competition which has unlimited substitutions and they now look forward to the championship, which will be run off quickly, with a lot of optimism.