WHEN the centenary of one of the GAA’s oldest competitions – the Sigerson Cup – came to a conclusion in 2011, it was almost appropriate that UCC, one of the original participants and the inaugural winners in 1911, were back on top again.
The taste was all the sweeter considering it was UCC’s first title in 16 years. The competition also showed how far it had come in 100 years (when there were only three teams entered) with eight teams battling it out over the final weekend, with UCC having to win three games in successive days.
On such a historic day, the rich Sigerson tradition was further emboldened by the sight of UCC manager Billy Morgan being chaired off the field afterwards by his players. Morgan’s association with the college stretched back through nearly half of the competition’s history when winning his first medal 45 years earlier, in 1966.
When Morgan first played for UCC in 1964-‘65, it was the first time he was ever picked to play as a goalkeeper. In that year’s Sigerson, UCC were rank outsiders against UCD who, aside from being favourites and hosts, were able pick their own referee and choose their semi-final opponents. UCD picked UCC, who they thought they would beat easily, but UCC won with a point from Dave Geaney in the seventh minute of injury time.
Forty-five years later, UCC were outsiders in each of their three matches, beating DCU, UCD and Jordanstown. Those three teams were packed with inter-county senior talent whereas UCC had (at the time) only one recognisable inter-county name, Cork’s Jamie O’Sullivan.
A raft of that UCC side did go on to become established senior inter-county players, but the biggest names were from Kerry – Peter Crowley, Johnny Buckley and Stephen O’Brien.
Cork did get a decent return from that 2011 UCC team, with Mark Collins, Barry O’Driscoll, Kevin O’Driscoll, Ken O’Halloran, Seán Kiely and Eoin O’Mahony playing for Cork.
Yet last week, Morgan expressed surprise that Cork didn’t make as much out of those UCC Sigerson winners as their great rivals from across the border.
“One of the best players on that 2011 team was Seán Kiely,” said Morgan in an interview with Seán Moran in. “He was brought on to the Cork panel but never really given a chance.
“Eoin O’Mahony was at full-back and in that Sigerson he marked Michael Murphy and Matty Donnelly. Again, he got on to the Cork panel and played a league match against Tyrone and was dropped.”
It probably pained Morgan even more considering how Kerry routinely profited from how their players developed in UCC. When Kerry won their last All-Ireland senior title in 2014, eight former UCC players started that final against Donegal, while six more were on the bench.
Of all the players which featured across six Sigerson finals for UCC in the last decade, 40 were from Cork, with 22 of those players seeing action at some stage for the seniors. A number of those players have since gone on to become big players for the county, but Morgan felt there could have been more.
Cork football is not comparable to Cork hurling but there has been a marked difference in how much of a breeding ground UCC has been for the Cork hurlers, as opposed to the footballers, over the last decade.
At face value, the numbers don’t exactly suggest otherwise; in the four Fitzgibbon finals UCC won between 2012-2020, 30 Cork players featured in those four finals, with 18 going on to represent Cork at senior level. Yet apart from the bulk of that number becoming key players for the Cork hurlers, a host of other players – UCC players which didn’t feature in those Fitzgibbon finals – have also played league and championship for Cork.
Morgan’s frustrations as to why more of those Sigerson winners haven’t made more of an impact with the senior footballers is further compounded again given the context of what many of them achieved with UCC; a tally of three Sigerson Cups in nine seasons could have been four if UCC hadn’t lost the 2015 final by one point to DCU after extra-time in the Mardyke. That was UCC’s third Sigerson final in a row, something the college hadn’t managed in nearly 60 years.
It was even more of a glorious decade for UCC considering that, prior to 2011, they had only won three Sigerson titles over the previous 37 years. In the same time span, UCC had contested 11 Sigerson finals but, up until the late 1980s, there were only 10 third-level institutions in the competition.
UCC won successive titles in 1994-’95 but the competition became much harder to win when all the new institutes of technology were allowed to take part after 1997. UCC really struggled during that early expansion, with the college contesting just one final in a 15-year period between 1995-2009.
The last decade though, gloriously altered those trends.
DCU may also have won three titles in that period but they reached two fewer finals than UCC. Even when there was only a small handful of colleges in the Sigerson, the most titles UCC had won in a single decade was four, which was all the way back in the 1920s.
Yet despite Sigerson Cup success returning to UCC in the last decade, Morgan is better placed than anyone to ask if the Cork senior footballers could have benefitted more from the bounty? Because Kerry certainly did.