It’s now more than nine years since the epic all-Cork Fitzgibbon Cup final at the Mardyke.
The centenary competition went the way of hosts UCC, who overcame Cork IT (not MTU Cork) after extra time, with Séamus Corry scoring the winning point in a 2-15 to 2-14 win.
Eight of the players involved – Killian Murphy, Seamus Harnedy, Stephen Moylan, Stephen McDonnell, Stephen White, Lorcán McLoughlin, Jamie Coughlan and William Egan – would have some game-time in the following year’s All-Ireland final.
In addition, Daniel Kearney was an unused substitute for UCC in 2012 and Paudie O’Sullivan would have featured in the 2013 decider against Clare but for injury.
UCC made it back-to-back titles in 2013, beating Mary Immaculate College in the final, and Brian Lawton, Paul Haughney and Conor Lehane from that team went on to Cork representation.
While the lack of All-Ireland success at minor and U21/U20 level for more than two decades has been lamented and held up as an impediment towards Cork reclaiming the Liam MacCarthy Cup, the Fitzgibbon has played as big a role in ensuring that the Rebels have contended at senior level.
Nine years on, Harnedy is the last man standing from the 2012 Fitzgibbon. While his story isn’t typical of the progression of young stars, it nevertheless serves as proof of how the third-level competition can provide a springboard. Having struggled to make an impact at minor or U21, UCC gave him an alternative avenue.
“At minor level, I kind of grew a lot when I was 18,” the St Ita’s man said in an interview in 2015.
“I probably wasn’t of the physique or build, I didn’t have the strength and conditioning background for the inter-county scene when I was minor,” he explained.
“At the U21 grade, I made more inroads, where I got on to the panel in my final year U21.
“We got to the Munster final, that Limerick final. I was on the bench, Aidan Walsh got the eight points that day.”
However, he didn’t let the lack of advancement get him down.
“I went in first year of college not really knowing where I was going in my career,” he remembers.
“In fairness, there was a few big characters there, you’d [former Tipperary player] Eddie Enright, the late Paul O’Connor, the Kingstons [Kieran and Tom], Ger Cunningham and Paddy Crowley.
“They were all pivotal characters in my career in UCC. They gave me a chance when I was performing in training, that’s all I wanted.
“It really did give you exposure and put yourself in the shop window. I was very thankful for UCC in giving me the chance to get the call up from Cork.”
With almost all of the 2012 and 2013 medallists having passed through the system, the hope is that UCC’s consecutive wins of 2019 and 2020 will prove to be a similar deep mine of talent for Cork.
Already, those teams have produced Robert Downey, David Lowney, David Griffin, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Mark Coleman, Niall O'Leary, Robbie O'Flynn, Shane Kingston, Chris O’Leary, Eoghan Murphy and Mark Coleman as well as some starlets for other counties such as Paddy O’Loughlin (Limerick), Mark Kehoe (Tipperary) and Shane Conway (Kerry).
Winning against their peers can only imbue confidence, though of course winning with the college is a different beast compared to doing so for the county. The negative is that UCC didn’t get a chance to win three in a row in 2021 as the third-level competitions were not held. Everybody suffered equally and so no one county was affected more negatively than any other, but it remains a missed opportunity for those players who were in their final year.
Cork will hope that success in red will offset that which they didn’t get a chance to do in red and black.