MTU Cork will look to make the most of home comforts as they begin their Electric Ireland Fitzgibbon Cup campaign tonight (7pm).
University of Galway (formerly NUI Galway) are the visitors to the Bishopstown college for a Group A clash. With 12 teams in the competition, there are four groups of three, with two sides advancing from each to the quarter-finals.
SETU Waterford, previously known as Waterford IT, are the other college in Group A – next week, Galway host them before MTU travel to Suirside in a fortnight for the final match.
The set-up of the competition means that an opening win would go a long way towards achieving qualification and a home tie offers MTU a good opportunity.
MTU’s manager is Ballyhea native John Mortell and he is hopeful of a good showing.
“It’s all for winning next Wednesday is the plan,” he says.
“The last couple of years were disjointed with Covid and things like that, there was a lot of uncertainty. It’s not as bad as before, which is a big help alright.
“The league was played in October and November. We drew with Waterford down in Waterford and then we lost narrowly to Carlow. We lost to UCC as well in the last game.
“So we had one draw and two losses but, that time, a lot of players were tied up with their clubs.”
Last year, MTU began with a win away to Trinity College before losing out at home to Galway-Mayo IT. That meant a second-placed finish and an away quarter-final against eventual winners University of Limerick.
Joining Mortell are selectors Timmy Murphy and Peter O’Keeffe, the latter stepping up after Ger O’Halloran sadly died last autumn.
Ger’s son Niall O’Halloran – who helped Fr O’Neills to the Co-op SuperStores Cork Senior A Hurling Championship last year – and Kerryman John ‘Tweek’ Griffin, who was part of the Cork senior set-up under Kieran Kingston last year, are the coaches and Mortell is delighted to have them on board.
“They’re two excellent coaches,” he says.
“There’s a great buy-in from the players.”
Getting the whole squad together hasn’t happened much. Such is the lot of the third-level team – in the early part of the academic year, players have to juggle club and college commitments as county championships draw to a close. Then, once they come back after Christmas and look to gear up for the Fitzgibbon, they have to deal with players being spirited away to play for their counties.
Mortell accepts the nature of the situation.
“We don’t often have a full squad as lads are tied up a lot with inter-county,” he says.
“To be fair, the pre-season competitions are on now and the national league is just around the corner.
The silver lining in that regard is that it is a by-product of having good players. MTU can call upon Cork’s Ciarán Joyce, Brian Roche, Sam Quirke and Jack Cahalane – Alan Connolly is also a student there but he is out with the shoulder injury that means he will miss the Allianz Hurling League with Cork.
Goalkeeper Aaron Browne from Tipperary is another on the injured list along with Lisgoold’s Cathal Hickey and Paddy O’Flynn of Bride Rovers, but others they can call upon are Evan Murphy (Kerry), Paddy Creedon (Tipp) and Seán Walsh (Waterford). Allied to those players are good quality club players, giving the squad a good balance.
“We’ve a lot of inter-county players this year,” Mortell says.
“We have eight, whereas other years we might have only three or four.
“We have the likes of Liam O’Shea from Lisgoold and Liam Ryan from Inniscarra too, they’re our joint captains.”
Group B also starts tonight, with SETU Carlow hosting Mary Immaculate College Limerick at 7pm. DCU Dóchas Éireann are the other team in that group.
The other two groups get underway tomorrow night. UCC are at home to Maynooth University at the Mardyke – Tom Kingston’s side will be away to UCD in a fortnight.
Elsewhere, holders University of Limerick have a trip to ATU Galway (formerly Galway-Mayo IT). There will be a Shannonside derby in that section as TUS Midwest (previously known as Limerick IT) make up the trio.