UCD got their Fitzgibbon Cup campaign off to a dream start after they disposed easily with Limerick IT at home last Thursday. Two early second half goals helped UCD secure the win and possibly set them on the way to winning their first Fitzgibbon Cup since 2001.
UCD trail behind UCC in the all-time table for the trophy, with UCC’s 41 wins comfortably leaving them clear of UCD’s 30, although UCD are well ahead of third place NUIG, who have won the trophy ten times.
Despite their historical dominance, UCD have not won the biggest prize in college hurling for 12 years. In fact, their opponents on Thursday, LIT, have won it more recently, having hoisted the famous trophy as recently as 2007.
UCD were forced to pull out of the Walsh Cup following the postponement of their game against Dublin, as it clashed with Thursday’s encounter. If this was not a sign of how seriously UCD are taking the Fitzgibbon Cup this year, then the clinical nature of their defeat of LIT surely was.
The early stages of the game were very close, with both sides exchanging points as LIT played with the wind in the first half. It only took ten minutes for the first goal opportunity, as LIT almost capitalised on a smart long ball.
Five minutes later, UCD had their own chance to score the game’s first goal, as Cathal Kenny drove forward powerfully and forced a goalmouth scramble, but LIT somehow cleared to safety. A few minutes later, Jack Guiney forced an impressive save from LIT’s Andrew Fahey to keep the scores close.
To this point, LIT had dominated the midfield. Their short passing game was causing UCD plenty of problems, as they had numerous chances in scoring positions. Unfortunately for the visiting side, their shooting accuracy left a lot to be desired, as they recorded seven wides in the first half alone.
UCD, who were without the injured trio of Kilkennymen; Walter Walsh, Cillian Buckley and John Tennyson, elected to play the long-ball game, as they faced in to a heavy wind. They were happy to rely on their forwards to take whatever chances came their way, as their supply was somewhat limited.
Around half way through the first half, either by design or due to a lack of discipline, LIT abandoned their short passing game in favour of a long-ball approach. This effectively took away the midfield, the one area in which LIT were on top.
The UCD defence was stifling, often forcing LIT players to take speculative shots while off-balance, while the attack looked slick, despite wasting one or two good chances. The LIT defence was having a hard time getting near the man on the ball, as evidenced by the fact it took 29 minutes for UCD to earn their first foul in a scoring position, while was cooly slotted over by Captain Noel McGrath.
The half time whistle immediately followed the point, and UCD left the field the happier side, as they lead by 0-8 to 0-7. Knowing they had the advantage of the wind for the rest of the game, UCD were clearly confident of a win.
This confidence was quickly justified, as UCD dominated the opening minutes of the second half. Only four minutes into the half, Michael Brennan scored his only points of the game as he forced a shot into the back of the LIT net.
The goal broke the spirit of the visiting side, as they failed to register another point in the 15 minutes that followed the first goal. During this time, UCD put up another 1-3 as the game faded out of reach for the Limerick side.
UCD’s second goal came after man-of-the-match Jack Guiney took advantage of a long puc-out from fellow Wexford-native Brian Murphy and powered his shot past the visiting goalkeeper. The goal was sandwiched either side of points by Paddy Murphy and Domhnall Fox, as UCD scored 1-2 in the space of three minutes.
UCD, taking full advantage of the wind, further showed their superiority as McGrath made a point from his own half. A quick point from LIT in reply saw them chasing a 2-11 0-10 deficit with only ten minutes remaining.
It was clear that points were not enough to overturn the score and so the away side were forced to forgo some easy attempts at points in favour of searching for a goal. Unfortunately for them, the home side were clearly fired up to play the full 60 minutes.
Dead-ball specialist Gary Guilfoyle was denied by a brave UCD defence as he tried to smash the ball into the top left corner of the UCD goal. Two minutes later, Guilfoyle was denied again in almost a carbon-copy of his first shot.
LIT then wasted a perfect opportunity to claw something back as the ball whizzed across the UCD goal, around six yards out. A lack of support play meant that no one who could reach out a hurl and turn the ball in was there for the visitors.
UCD put up two more impressive points through James Gannon and Ross Kelly to kill the game off once and for all, while Sean Collins pulled a point back for the losing side as time expired.
UCD look set to progress from their group now, with a trip to DCU on Thursday not expected to challenge them too much. If they win the group, as expected, UCD will face the runner-up of Group D, which contains University of Limerick (the tournament favourites), St. Patrick’s/Mater Dei and DIT.
By Kevin Beirne