14-man UCC produce barnstorming finish to retain Fitzgibbon Cup and break Carlow hearts
UCC 0-18 IT Carlow 2-11
14-man UCC produced a sterling finish at the DCU Sportsgrounds to retain their Fitzgibbon Cup crown at the expense of a dogged IT Carlow outfit.
Despite having wing-back Niall O’Leary dismissed inside the final-quarter, the combined forces of Shane Conway, Shane Fitzgibbon and Darragh Fitzgibbon stood tall to get the Munster giants over the line.
Whereas UCC were seeking their 40th title at this grade, IT Carlow had their sights on a maiden Fitzgibbon success.
Under the stewardship of former Kilkenny marksman DJ Carey, the Barrowsiders have developed a midas touch in attack. They amassed a combined tally of 10 goals in their previous two games and maintained that clinical edge during the early moments of this showpiece contest.
After UCC centre-back Paddy O’Loughlin had opened the scoring with a pointed free, Carlow inside forward Seamus Casey kicked to the net for a second-minute major. Following traded points between Chris Nolan and Robbie O’Flynn, Shane Hurley was once again forced to pick the ball out of his net.
Full-forward Liam Blanchfield gathered possession close to goal and fired emphatically beyond the reach of the UCC netminder. Casey and Jerry Kelly were on target either side of a Conway effort – before the Leesiders had their first sustained spell of dominance.
Kingston and the impressive Conway bagged two points apiece in a productive purple patch to keep the holders within touch. IT Carlow racked up a number of wides in the second-quarter, but Casey and Enda Rowland converted frees to ensure they brought a 2-5 to 0-7 cushion into the interval.
With momentum on their side, Stephen Bergin and Nolan – the sole Carlow native in their starting line-up – extended the gap on the resumption. Seconds after his introduction as a substitute, Neil Montgomery split the uprights on the right-flank to give UCC a much-needed score.
Though Casey responded at the opposite end, Conway and Fitzgibbon points showed that UCC weren’t prepared to relinquish their crown without a fight. A Kingston point was sandwiched in between Casey and Nolan strikes, while Conway grabbed a 0-2 salvo to set-up a tantalising conclusion.
They suffered a potential hammer blow on the stroke of 50 minutes when O’Leary was red carded for an off-the-ball retaliation, but Kingston and Conway added renewed vigour for UCC in the closing minutes.
Conway subsequently levelled matters through a close-range free and Limerick’s Fitzgibbon then stepped forward to squeeze them in front for just the second time on the night.
Conway’s ninth point offered them further breathing space and though Rowland’s goal bound free deep into stoppage-time deflected just over the crossbar, UCC held out for a hard-fought win.
Scorers – UCC: S Conway 0-9 (7f), S Kingston 0-4, D Fitzgibbon 0-2, P O’Loughlin, M Kehoe, N Montgomery 0-1 each. IT Carlow: S Casey 1-4 (0-4f), L Blanchfield 1-0, C Nolan 0-3, E Rowland 0-2 (2f), S Bergin, J Kelly 0-1 each.
UCC – S Hurley; D Lowney, R Downey, K O’Dwyer; P Cadell, P O’Loughlin, N O’Leary; D Fitzgibbon, M Coleman; R O’Flynn, C Boylan, D Griffin; M Kehoe, S Kingston, S Conway.
Subs: N Montgomery for O’Flynn (34), M O’Halloran for Kehoe (37), B Sheehan for Moylan (53), A Casey for Fitzgibbon (62).
IT CARLOW – E Rowland; S Reck, S Downey, F Hayes; P Delaney, J Cleere, M Harney; R Leahy, L Scanlon; J Kelly, C Dunbar, S Bergin; C Nolan, L Blanchfield, S Casey. Subs: R Maguire for Blanchfield (26).
REF – J Owens (Wexford).