TONIGHT: Fitzgibbon Cup final: IT Carlow V UCC, 7.30pm.
THE very name, IT Carlow will conjure up some unhappy memories for UCC, not for this Fitzgibbon Cup team but for their football counterparts in the Sigerson Cup a few weeks ago.
The Western Road outfit and holders of that competition were hot favourites to see off the Carlow students but things did not go according to plan that day and they were eliminated.
Of course, that result has absolutely nothing to do with this Fitzgibbon Cup final but, at the same time, there might be a little score to settle for Tom Kingston’s team because of what transpired with the footballers.
UCC will start favourites in today’s final, they are the competition holders and earned their right to be back in another decider.
But you could say something similar about IT Carlow, managed by Kilkenny great DJ Carey, now a selector on Noreside alongside Brian Cody.
They might have been down the pecking order a bit before the competition commenced but they have certainly impressed in getting into the final.
And they certainly issued a very strong statement of intent in their semi-final victory at the weekend against a fancied Mary Immaculate team that had Jamie Wall leading them on the sideline.
The Carlow students banged in five goals in their 14-point victory, putting up the impressive tally of 5-14.
Mary I could have had no complaints at the end, beaten by an impressive unit that will be high on confidence after the result.
They have a very well balanced side that has Kilkenny seniors Richie Leahy and Liam Blanchfield making their presence felt in attack.
Cathal Dunbar from Wexford drilled in two goals in the semi-final victory while Enda Rowland, the Laois goalkeeper, provides plenty of stability.
Others like Seamus Casey from Wexford, Stephen Bergin and Chris Nolan are highly rated individuals too and with Carey at the helm, UCC will not underestimate them in any way.
As far as tradition in this competition goes, UCC are way out in front, the competition specialists.
Similar to last season when they won the title, they had to exhibit real character in their semi-final win over the hosts DCU.
Last season when the sides collided at the same stage, Chris O’Leary was the UCC hero with a last-gasp goal from a penalty.
On this occasion, it was Mark Coleman with a sublime point deep into stoppage time again from a sideline puck that won the day UCC had to really earn this victory, showing nerves of steel to do so.
However, that comes from proper preparation and the fact that the side contains some outstanding hurlers.
Trying to get into the first 15 with this UCC team is a huge task in itself given the intense competition for places.
Against UCC you had players like Michael O’Halloran and Billy Sheehan coming in from the bench.
The team is very well constructed from goalkeeper Shane Hurley out.
Robert Downey is growing in stature at full-back while out in front of him, David Lowney, Paddy Caddell, Paddy O’Loughlin and the excellent Mark Coleman are showing the way.
Darragh Fitzgibbon is flying too while in the attack, Shane Kingston, Shane Conway and Robbie O’Flynn are putting up very important scores.
In fact, it would be fair to say that this UCC team is an inter-county unit in all but name.
But it will be all on the day and hurling at this time of the year in what are often tough conditions can make life difficult for the best of sides.
But this is a tried and trusted UCC team, led superbly by team boss Tom Kingston who is vastly experienced in this competition. Mark Kehoe from Tipperary is an ideal target man on the edge of the square and it’s difficult to find any flaws in this UCC team.
And their depth of resources on the sideline adds to their strength.
But IT Carlow have grown in stature along the journey and won’t be found wanting either.
The belief is that they’ll be formidable opponents but it’s very difficult to oppose this UCC bunch of players.
Tradition can stand for a lot in finals too and they just seem to be too powerful and to have the greater firepower up front.