The Canon O’Brien Cup will make a welcome return to the local GAA calendar as UCC hurlers take on Cork next Friday night, January 14, at the Mardyke (7pm).
With third-level competitions not played in 2020-21 and the season starting far later than normal, the annual clash between the two sides with whom Fr Michael O’Brien enjoyed success was among those events which went by the wayside.
Since 2013, it has been the traditional season-starter, with 2018 the sole exception as bad weather meant the game was postponed and there was no suitable time for it to be rescheduled as the Fitzgibbon Cup and Allianz Hurling League were approaching.
This time around, Cork are not taking part in the Co-op SuperStores Munster Hurling Cup while UCC commence their Fitz campaign on January 19 with a clash away to Mary Immaculate College, so it serves both as a pipe-opener.
Of the seven editions of the competition that have been played, Cork hold a 5-2 advantage, having won the first four games between the teams.
The first of those took place on Saturday, January 19, 2013 and was in fact a Waterford Crystal Cup first-round tie (at the time, college sides had the option of entering inter-county pre-season competitions).
A quarter-final clash with Waterford IT was the prize and it was Cork who came out on top, winning by 3-20 to 1-16 down the Dyke.
Although they started slowly, once Cork snaffled two goals in the space of a minute just before halftime, through Patrick Horgan and Paudie O’Sullivan, they took command. Horgan finished with 2-7, 1-7 coming in the first half. Early on he was engaged in a free-taking battle with UCC’s Willie Griffin as the college side, were 0-8 to 0-6 ahead after 20 minutes.
That had narrowed to 0-9 to 0-8 before Michael Cussen cushioned Stephen Moylan’s pass into Horgan’s path, allowing him an easy finish, and then O’Sullivan showed great control from a Brian Corry ball to make it 2-8 to 0-9.
UCC came strongly at the start of the second half with Griffin cutting the gap to two points with a goaled free. Cork responded well, Horgan nailing a 20m free for his second goal. Moylan, Pa Cronin and O’Sullivan all scored good points in the closing stages as Cork pulled clear.
In 2014, as with this year, a Cork team holiday precluded involvement in the Waterford Crystal and so the Canon game was used as a tune-up, with a 2-19 to 1-14 win recorded by Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s side. The goals came from Horgan and Moylan while Paul Haughney – given his chance after helping Midleton to win the 2013 county title – scored three points from midfield.
The following year, Anthony Nash marked his appointment as Cork captain by leading the Rebels to victory against the Students. Paudie O’Sullivan’s early goal put Cork 1-10 to 0-4 in front before Jamie Barron goaled from a UCC penalty and it was 1-13 to 1-7 at half-time.
While Anthony Spillane narrowed the gap on the resumption, Cork pushed on again and won by 1-26 to 2-12.
With Kieran Kingston having taken over from Barry-Murphy for 2016, Cork made it four wins on the trot but they needed second-half goals from O’Sullivan and emerging talent Darragh Fitzgibbon to secure a 2-12 to 0-13 victory.
However, UCC were not to be denied indefinitely and in 2017 a youthful Cork side – the game was on the same weekend as a Munster HL clash with Kerry – were beaten by 0-22 to 1-13, with Alan Cadogan scoring seven points for UCC while Billy McCarthy landed five.
The 2018 postponement meant that UCC held the cup for two years, but Cork regained it when the competition was revived in 2019.
It was a close-run thing, though. Declan Dalton’s goal helped Cork to a 1-13 to 0-15 half-time lead but UCC were in front after Mark Coleman netted from a penalty. The upper hand continued to go back and forth in the closing stages and UCC were in front as the game moved into injury time but Patrick Horgan and Stephen Condon pointed for a 1-24 to 1-23 win.
It was just as competitive in 2020, the most recent game, but this time it was UCC coming out on top, with Seán Hayes landing the winner for a 2-18 to 1-20 victory. While Luke Meade had a first-minute Cork goal, Michael O’Halloran’s green flag helped UCC to a 1-11 to 1-8 lead.
Though Cork pushed three ahead in the second half, Hayes’s goal tied things and it was he who proved to be the match-winner.