DCU were defeated 2-20 to 2-16 in their opening Fitzgibbon Cup fixture by NUI Galway in a thoroughly enjoyable encounter.
Played on the banks of Galway city’s river Corrib, the playing surface was in surprisingly good condition and that enabled both DCU and NUIG to contribute well to a free-flowing game.
The loss of star forward Richie Hogan to injury was a big blow to DCU needless to say, but the team performed admirably in his absence. NUIG were also missing Limerick inter-county forward Kevin Downes on account of his club Na Piarsaigh’s All-Ireland semi-final this weekend.
Referee Fergal Horgan booked a total of 11 players during the course of the game, eight of them coming in the first of a match that could not have been described as being dirty.
The referee’s whistle was being sounded quite frequently as a result, and that led to both sides getting plenty of opportunities from frees. Of the 36 points that were scored, 19 of them came from placed balls.
This meant that much of the crowd’s focus fell on the free-takers. DCU’s Donal Breathnach and NUIG’s Niall O’Brien both finished with 12 points apiece. Not only did they make an impression on the scoreboard, but both midfielders were two of the best hurlers on the field along with NUIG’s centre-back Conor Cleary.
The match started at pace and DCU had the ball in the back of the net with barely two minutes on the clock. Mark Aylward struck the first of his two goals when he caught a Breathnach free which dropped short, swivelled and blasted a fearsome shot past Kevin Flynn.
Breathnach and O’Brien exchanged a number of frees during the early part of the first half. NUIG full-back Eoin Fahy was looking vulnerable against Aylward every time the ball entered the DCU full-forward line, and the Kilkenny man got his second goal of the game after 15 minutes to leave DCU ahead 2-3 to 0-5.
While Aylward’s goals had put DCU in the ascendancy, NUIG were playing the sharper hurling. By half-time, they had overturned their deficit to lead 1-13 to 2-5.
Following another Donal Breathnach free, the Westerners rattled off 1-7 without reply as DCU failed to score from the 16th-29th minute. Niall O’Brien scored a couple of frees, while wing-backs Eoin Teagle and Gerard Forde also got in on the act.
NUIG’s goal came just before the interval from Gerard O’Donoghue following a fine delivery from Cleary. DCU started the brighter after the quick change of ends registering two points from Breathnach, the second of which was his first from play.
Breathnach and O’Brien were again to the fore in the early stages of the second half. They were involved heavily in open play as well as on the scoreboard, and by the 38th minute O’Brien’s 10th point of the afternoon had NUIG in front 1-15 to 2-8.
Padraig Breheny replied for DCU a number of minutes later, but NUIG soon began to exert their control as the greater pace they were able to put on their game began to tell. They scored three of the next four points, and a good save from Padraic Burke in the DCU goal from NUIG’s Brendan Phelan helped keep his team in the game.
However, NUIG did get their second goal in the 49th minute. Phelan beat his counterpart this time around after some good build up play to leave DCU 2-18 to 2-10 behind. Rather than fold, DCU fought back immediately with Breathnach putting over three placed balls.
David Gavin and Breheny missed goal chances for DCU in the final minutes, putting the sliotar over the crossbar as their late rally ended in defeat. NUIG had been the better side throughout, and a defeat would have been harsh on them at that stage.
DCU had a number of standout displays in a good overall team performance. Robert Lennon, Padraig Breheny and Mark Aylward all played well along with the very influential Donal Breathnach.
DCU now face DIT at home next Tuesday in a game they need to win to have a chance of making the quarter-finals.
DCU: Padraic Burke; Ger Grace, Robert Lennon, Gary Bennett; Alan Cormican, Pat O’Carroll, Eoin Corcoran; Donal Breathnach (0-12, 0-9 f, 0-1 ‘65), Padraig Breheny (0-2); Cormac Ryan, Tony French, David Gavin (0-1); Padraig Bolger, Mark Aylward (2-0), Cathal Curran (0-1).
Subs: Niall Walsh for Corcoran (35 mins), Cillian Egan for French (38 mins), James Divilly for Bolger (46 mins).
NUIG: Kevin Flynn; David Magner, Eoin Fahy, Cormac Diviney; Gerard Forde (0-2), Conor Cleary, Eoin Teagle (0-1); John Paul O’Connell, Niall O’Brien (0-12, 0-8f, 0-1 ’65); Dean Higgins (0-1), Billy Lane (0-1), Michael Mullins (0-1); Gerard O’Donoghue (1-0), Brendan Phelan (1-1), David Reidy (0-1).
Subs: Gordon Joyce for Diviney (Blood, 27 mins), Joyce for Magner (51 mins).
Referee: F. Horgan (Tipperary).