John Horgan on the magic of UCC in the Fitzgibbon Cup

The College got their campaign off to a winning start and play in the Mardyke this Wednesday
John Horgan on the magic of UCC in the Fitzgibbon Cup

Robert Downey, UCC, trying to grab the sliotar against Mary Immaculate College in the Fitzgibbon Cup. Picture: Brendan Gleeson

IT would be right to suggest that many a glittering Cork hurling career began on a Wednesday afternoon up the Mardyke in a Fitzgibbon Cup game in the colours of UCC.

The players involved might have featured on a Cork minor team, but their introduction to the game at third colleges level was a step up the ladder, facing the best young hurlers from across the GAA landscape. Cork and UCC and Cork IT too in more recent times have always worked in tandem — one benefits from the other, and that’s the way it has always been and will continue to be.

There’s an endless list of how many players used the Fitzgibbon Cup as a stepping stone to greater glory on the inter-county stage, how they used it as a platform to impress inter-county managers.

Lesser-known players forged successful club careers from their participation, too.

The most successful inter-county manager of all time, Brian Cody, was often spotted up the ‘Dyke on a Wednesday afternoon throwing his eye over Kilkenny players who were featuring in a Fitzgibbon Cup clash, using that experience to inform him whether certain players had it or not to cut it on the bigger stage.

Playing in the Fitzgibbon Cup is now seen as very much part of the developmental process of a player, it galvanises them in sometimes very difficult conditions at that time of the year.

Players are toughened up in those types of conditions, and they send out a signal to many watching inter-county bosses.

You can be certain that most if not all of the leading inter-county managers are out in force at this time of the year, throwing their eye on players who they believe have the capabilities to graduate up the ladder.

Some of Cork’s greatest ever hurlers have taken that route to the glories they achieved — players like Ray Cummins, Pat McDonnell, Seamus Looney, Timmy Crowley, and Pat Hartnett, to mention just a few.

There are so many more, and mentions of Kilkenny, one of its greatest ever, Tommy Walsh, developed into the hurler he became in the Western Road academy. And didn’t Nicky English develop into one of Tipp’s greatest ever in the old college?

That is what it is — a nursery where first and foremost is your academic career, but also furthering your education as a hurler.

This year’s competition continues tomorrow night for UCC in the Dyke against UCD, and there is the prospect of a fine game in store.

UCC have already signalled their intent on adding to the 40 titles they have already won by defeating Mary I last week, while UCD will be full-on in their attempt to get back on track after their opening-day loss to NUIG.

Home advantage is perceived to be a plus, playing in front of a large support, but that can never be taken for granted.

Have no doubt, Kieran Kingston and the rest of his selectors will be keeping a very close eye on the proceedings, with quite a good number of their squad involved.

In their defeat of Mary I, UCC were without Niall O’Leary, Jack O’Connor, and Tommy O’Connell — and their addition would further strengthen what is already a very formidable base.

One of the players who they will be focusing on was young Padraig Power from Blarney — an outstanding prospect who, upon his introduction against Mary I, delivered four points from play.

And, of course, this is where a management team has to be really on the ball, initially selecting what they believe is their strongest starting 15 and subsequently making their introductions at an appropriate time.

DEPTH

In the Canon O’Brien Cup game against Cork, UCC named 35 on their panel and, no doubt, every one of them are well capable of doing the necessary job.

So it’s an onerous task for the management, led by Tom Kingston, to sit down and select 15 from that. After all, you are dealing with some of the best young players from many counties.

That is the case with most of the competing colleges — a surplus of talent that must be whittled down to 15.

And we have seen in the past in some of these Fitzgibbon Cup games of inter-county players not making the first 15.

The level of competition is intense now, much more so than in the distant past when you had just four teams competing for honours — UCC, UCD, UCG, and Queens from Belfast.

That number has virtually quadrupled now, and only the fittest and best make it through to the knockout stage.

Anything relating to the Fitzgibbon Cup and its massive contribution to the success story of so many has to contain a huge reference to the late, great Canon Michael O’Brien who was instrumental in what UCC has achieved, leading the College to eight successive titles in the 1980s.

His overall contribution to Cork hurling is well documented, and it’s safe to say that as long as Fitzgibbon Cup hurling is played, his name will always feature right at the very top. So many others too, Dr Paddy Crowley, John Grainger, Dr Con Murphy, the late and great Dan Beechinor and Paul O’Connor.

Former UCC manager Paul O'Connor. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/SPORTSFILE
Former UCC manager Paul O'Connor. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/SPORTSFILE

Yes, the Fitzgibbon Cup, all the more so a game up the Dyke, is a special event, and no doubt will continue to be for future generations.

Every county are benefactors from this very special competition, and its great tradition will continue Wednesday night when UCC take on their great rivals from Belfield.

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