Cork hurling fans will get behind UCC but Mary I have strong Leeside connections too

Cork hurling fans will get behind UCC but Mary I have strong Leeside connections too
Rian McBride of DCU is held up by Eoghan Murphy of UCC. Picture: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Electric Ireland Fitzgibbon Cup final: UCC v Mary I, Waterford IT, 2.45pm. Live on TG4.

THIS has all the ingredients to be an absolutely belting game on Saturday afternoon, with a strong Cork presence in both teams.

UCC are built around the star Rebels of their generation – Mark Coleman, Darragh Fitzgibbon and Shane Kingston. Chris O’Leary from Valley Rovers has been the College’s leading light from the half-back line, slamming over some booming scores from frees and play as well as converting the last-gasp penalty in extra-time of the semi-final against DCU.

There are a host of other promising Cork hurlers like Eoghan Murphy, Niall O’Leary, David Lowney, Eddie Gunning, David Griffin, keeper Jack Barry, Evan Sheehan, Michael O’Halloran and Robbie O’Flynn, who has been struggling with injury. Quality across every line of the pitch. There’s also Kilkenny midfielder Conor Browne, Limerick wing-back Paddy O’Loughlin, Kerry flier Shane Conway and Tipp’s Mark Kehoe.

UCC's Shane Conway with Rory O'Connor of DCU. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
UCC's Shane Conway with Rory O'Connor of DCU. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

 Some talent.

Mary I are under the shrewd guidance of Jamie Wall, who was a dual Cork minor and U21 and has deservedly built up a reputation as a coach of note, which is why the Limerick college are chasing a third Fitz in four seasons.

Luke Meade hitting the net against Clare last summer. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Luke Meade hitting the net against Clare last summer. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Kanturk’s Darren Brown and Luke Meade are vital cogs for Mary I and up front they’ve Colin O’Brien, who was part of the All-Ireland winning Cork U17 group two years ago.

A native of Liscarroll, O’Brien had an absolute stormer in a hard-fought U17 semi-final against Galway. Not as high-profile as others from that crop, it’ll be interesting to see if he nails down a berth with the Cork U20s this season, though he’ll be eligible again in 2020.

Colin O'Brien battles Darragh Fanning of Cork IT. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Colin O'Brien battles Darragh Fanning of Cork IT. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Dromina’s Brian Buckley, a Cork minor when they reached the All-Ireland in 2017, has been introduced by Wall in a number of games while Grenagh’s Seán Bourke, their go-to player in the modern era, is also in the squad.

So while Leesiders will understandably be keen to see the College get their hands on the Fitzgibbon Cup for the first time since 2013, there will be a clutch of medals coming back to Rebel county either way.

UCC's Chris O'Leary clears his lines. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
UCC's Chris O'Leary clears his lines. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

For all their Cork connections, Mary I’s marquee man is Aaron Gillane. The Limerick forward has upped the gears so far this season and was brilliant for the Shannonsiders in dismantling Kilkenny at Nowlan Park last Sunday. Galway’s Thomas Monaghan, who is a foil for Meade in the middle third, and Clare’s Colin Guilfoyle are other players that will need to be tied up by the College.

You can be certain Tom Kingston, Ger Cunningham, Dr Paddy Crowley and the rest of the UCC management will be well aware of the quality in Mary I’s ranks and wary of the favourites tag. On paper, UCC looked the likely champions before a ball was pucked yet they were second-best for long stretches of the semi-final.

The College only hurled at full tilt sporadically last week and would have paid the price only for Mallow’s Seán Hayes to be needlessly fouled late on, with O’Leary squeezing the subsequent penalty home for a one-point win.

O’Leary deservedly grabbed the headlines after his heroics at Waterford IT, but Shane Kingston was outstanding too. As well as his haul of 1-5 from play he was out in the trenches to secure possession in the lead-up to the penalty. He has 3-10 from play since January and if UCC do secure a 39th Fitz, and fourth since 2009, Kingston will have to be at his scintillating best.

Kingston is probably a bit underappreciated because he’s not the first option up front in a Cork senior team spearheaded by Pat Horgan, Conor Lehane and Seamus Harnedy and hasn’t been as consistent as his All-Star peers, Coleman and Fitzgibbon. Now coming out of the U21 ranks, the Douglas clubman has the all talent to become a dominant force.

UCC's Shane Kingston celebrates scoring a goal. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
UCC's Shane Kingston celebrates scoring a goal. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Conway is the College’s top scorer with 0-28, nine from play, across their five games and he could be crucial.

Fitzgibbon’s only outing was as a sub against DCU because he had been injured and on duty for Charleville in the All-Ireland club series and he’ll be eager to avoid another big-game loss after their defeat at Croker two weeks back. Coleman wasn’t prominent in the semi-final but he’ll need to gain a foothold in the middle tomorrow, neutering Meade and cutting off the supply to Gillane.

Aaron Gillane scores from a sideline. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Aaron Gillane scores from a sideline. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

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