UCC keen to get winning Fitzgibbon Cup start

Home fixture against Maynooth University is opening assignment for the college
UCC keen to get winning Fitzgibbon Cup start

UCC's Shane Barrett in action against Cork's Seán O'Leary Hayes in last week's Canon O'Brien Cup game at the Mardyke. Picture: David Keane

While UCC are strong favourites for tonight’s Electric Ireland Fitzgibbon Cup opener against Maynooth University at the Mardyke (7pm), manager Tom Kingston is taking nothing for granted.

Last year, UCC beat Mary Immaculate College and UCD to emerge from their group before losing out to IT Carlow at the quarter-final stage. This time around, they have Maynooth as their home opener before a trip to Belfield to face UCD in a fortnight.

Given that a win is likely to be enough to emerge from the three-team group, the home group represents a good opportunity to achieve that but Kingston is wary of the challenge that the Kildare college bring.

“Maynooth have a fine team this year and they’re the seeded team in our group,” he says.

“They’re a good side, well coached and well managed. I think that they’ll show that on Thursday night.

“We’re under no illusions and we know what Maynooth will bring to the table. We saw them perform in the league, they got to a semi-final and we’ll have to be at our best to beat them.

“We know what’s ahead of us and it’s up to ourselves to make sure we’re right.”

UCC have Cork players Robert Downey, Niall O’Leary, Conor Cahalane, Brian Hayes, Ethan Twomey, Shane Barrett and Jack O’Connor in their squad along with Jerome Boylan of Limerick and Waterford’s Iarlaith Daly, while Dáire O’Leary, Ger Millerick and Pádraig Power are out injured at the moment.

With so many players involved with their counties, Kingston acknowledges the importance of over-straining them.

“The workload on players playing inter-county and Fitzgibbon is huge at this time of year,” he says.

“What it’s about really is just getting the balance right. The last thing you want is a player who’s out seven nights a week training because then he’s no good to anybody.

“It can be difficult for the players, but we’re predominantly Cork this year and Pat Ryan has been excellent with us, he’s been very fair.

“There’s no point training hard all the time, you have to keep guys fresh.”

UCC, who played SETU Waterford (formerly Waterford IT) and Tipperary U20s in challenge matches as well as the Canon O’Brien Cup against Cork, sit on top of the competition’s roll of honour, last winning in 2020, which completed back-to-back titles. It’s little wonder that long-serving manager Kingston, who is assisted by Tom Kenny, Wesley O’Brien, Tomás Manning and Peter Coady, is a big fan of the Fitz.

“I think it’s a wonderful competition and I’ve a huge grá for it,” he says.

“I believe hugely in the Fitzgibbon and Sigerson Cups. For the young lads from 19-22 who haven’t quite made it at senior inter-county level because they’re too young, it’s a huge help in development as a player.

“It puts them in a bit of a spotlight – all of the best young players in the country now are playing Fitzgibbon. In my day, you did your secondary schooling and maybe 20 or 25 percent went on to third level.

“Now, nearly 99 percent go on to third level in some college, somewhere, so the standard of hurling in the Fitzgibbon has never been higher.

“The standards of all of the teams have gone a way up and, to win a Fitzgibbon now, you really do earn it. We’ve had some great teams over the years that didn’t win it and it can just happen that way.”

They will look for a winning start, in front of a big crowd down the Dyke. Certainly, Kingston feels that it is worthy of it.

“I’m a big believer in these old competitions,” he says.

“I would say that almost all of the players feel the same way, the same with the Harty Cup, and they need minding, protecting and marketing.

“It’s only good for the GAA and for the game of hurling if that happens as it brings more and more young players through the ranks.

“A bit of marketing wouldn’t go astray in terms of promoting the competition because it’s huge in the development of players. You’re playing with and against some of the best players in the country, which can only be of benefit.”

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