Partying like it's 1999: UCC footballers recall glorious victories against the odds

Partying like it's 1999: UCC footballers recall glorious victories against the odds
UCC captain Micheál Ó Croinín with the cup after beating Nemo in 1999.

TWENTY years ago UCC had distinction of appearing in three county finals.

The hurlers were unlucky to come up against a crack Blackrock side, which did a number on the students.

The College footballers, though, were on a roller-coaster of a ride, drawing 1-7 to 0-10 with Nemo Rangers the first day before winning the replay by 1-11 to 1-8.

It wasn't the students' first tied game of what turned out to be a marathon campaign because they had drawn with Bantry Blues earlier in the competition.

UCC midfielder Gary Stack bursts past Nemo Rangers players Niall Geary and Alan Cronin. Picture: Denis Minihane.
UCC midfielder Gary Stack bursts past Nemo Rangers players Niall Geary and Alan Cronin. Picture: Denis Minihane.

Little did the Des Cullinane-coached side, which was captained by Micheál Ó Croinín, know that they had only played half of their grand total of replays by the time their season finished in February, 2000.

That remarkable 2019 season was recalled recalled during a re-union of a side that was labelled 'UCK' by some because of the predominance of players from the Kingdom in the starting 15.

The usual team consisted of 11 players from Kerry, two from Cork (keeper Alan Quirke), one from Tipperary (Eamonn Hanrahan) and one from Limerick (Damien Reidy).

Now, 20 years older, some with receding hair-lines and others with expanding girths, they reminisced well into the night and beyond, no doubt recalling the wild celebrations following their replay win over Nemo.

They fondly recalled their first outing in the Munster club championship, when UCC's year almost came to a shuddering halt to an unlikely outfit.

The UCC Gaelic football team who won the Cork county and Munster senior football club titles in 1999 at their reunion at the Mardyke recently.
The UCC Gaelic football team who won the Cork county and Munster senior football club titles in 1999 at their reunion at the Mardyke recently.

Rathgormac, the Waterford champions, pushed them the wire at Páirc Uí Rinn, the College more than relieved to escape with a 0-12 to 1-9 draw, completing a hat-trick of draws with more to come.

Kerry 'great' Eamonn Fitzmaurice would have spoken about the replay in Waterford on a Saturday and a dash to Dublin for a national league game the following day.

Considering what Kieran Molloy has to do to satisfy both NUIG and Corofin these days, Fitzmaurice had it cushy in his time by comparison.

After making the most of another second opportunity, College winning by 0-12 to 0-7, the students prepared for a Munster final against the holders, Doonbeg.

The Clare champions had shown their worth by disposing of the Kerry representatives, Laune Rangers, in the semi-final in Killarney, winning by 2-9 to 0-11 to reach back-to-back finals.

Again, College breathed a huge sigh of relief after drawing 1-10 to 2-7, all wondering when their luck would eventually run out. Not quite, yet, as it transpired.

The replay was a battle and needed a health and safety certificate because Doonbeg not only came out second best in terms of football ability, but some of their players lost the plot as well.

Targetted College players ran the gauntlet as their opponent had two players sent-off late on, borne out of pure frustration as the classy students strutted their stuff in a 1-17 to 0-7 romp.

For a team that started out in early 1999, UCC were now delving into 2000 for a crack at an All-Ireland semi-final against the kingpins, Crossmaglen Rangers.

The Ulster champions were in a different league. Players of the quality of Oisín McConville strutted their stuff in a seven-point victory despite College scoring 3-6 with Ó Croinín contributing 2-2.

Cross, who had beaten Ballina Stephenites by 0-9 to 0-8 in the previous year's final, duly retained their crown with a 1-14 to 0-12 victory over Na Fianna from Dublin in the final.

An historic three-in-a-row proved elusive to Cross, however, as it has done to everyone else in the frame striving for such an honour.

It makes Corofin's achievement in reaching a third successive All-Ireland semi-final all the more remarkable and adds intrigue to their meeting with Nemo.

While Fitzmaurice was the stand-out player from that UCC team in terms of his achievements with Kerry as both player and manager, another came to prominence in a different field.

Defender Seán Mac an tSithigh, whose name caused palpitations for reporters covering their games, became an internationally acclaimed and much-travelled tv journalist-documentary maker, in both languages, English and as Gaeilge.

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