First Fitzgibbon Cup final ends in brave six-point defeat for DCU

Micheál Ó Scannáil

24 February 2018; Rian McBride of DCU Dochas Eireann in action against Sean Finn of University of Limerick during the Electric Ireland HE GAA Fitzgibbon Cup Final match between DCU Dochas Eireann and University of Limerick at Mallow GAA Grounds in Mallow, Co Cork. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

DCU Dóchas Éireann 2-15

University of Limerick 2-21

Fitzgibbon Cup Final

DCU Dóchas Éireann lost their first ever Fitzgibbon Cup final to University of Limerick last Saturday, after wasted opportunities and too many frees.

DCU entered their maiden final in Mallow as heavy underdogs, but though the bookmakers had UL at 1/12 DCU should feel somewhat content that they left the game behind them.

Speaking at a DCU alumni event before the game, Seán Óg Ó Hailpín recalled his playing days for the University when they reached a semi-final before being hammered in the penultimate round.

“What cost us that day is that we got off to a horrible start,” he said. “DCU have to get off to a good start today.”

The words of Cork legend were accurate as DCU began the game on top. After a Donal Burke point two minutes in, DCU struggled to turn their dominance into scores.

Four early wides and a point-blank goal chance saved by UL’s David McCarthy and kept DCU from amassing a big early lead. This proved costly as UL went on a four-point scoring spree without answer from DCU. Three of the four coming from Jason Forde frees.

DCU went on scoring spree of their own following this, a lovely point from Conor Delaney was followed by two more frees from Burke.

The standard of play, aside from the many wides, was not unlike what you would see in September in Croke Park and some beautiful fielding from both sides complemented tit-for-tat scores.

Patrick Curran, who DCU greatly depends on for scores, was quiet all game but got his chance after a wonderful pickup by John Donnelly drew a foul and Curran stepped up to take the resulting penalty.

Although the penalty was mis-hit, goalkeeper McCarthy dived, and the ball bounced off the turf and over his flailing legs. A quarter of the game gone and DCU had a less than deserved lead of 1-05 to 0-06.

DCU added to their lead two minutes later when Rian McBride plucked the sliotar out of the air with an incredible catch before feeding Joe O’Connor who struck an over the shoulder point from midfield.

DCU did not make enough of the strong win on their backs in the first half and gave away far too many soft frees.

DCU management were unhappy with the refereeing decisions and could be heard to shout “You’re giving them every soft free ref.”

Whether the referee or the DCU defending was at fault, the frees helped UL to close the gap to the minimum deficit before the Shannon-siders inflicted a killer blow. Some great fielding by John McGrath saw him feed Barry Murphy who linked up well with Jason Forde to put the ball past DCU goalkeeper Oisin Foley.

The teams went tit-for-tat until half time with Donal Burke keeping the University in touch with some fine scores while UL’s Ronan Lynch got on the scoresheet and Jason Forde added to his increasingly impressive tally.

UL manager Gary Kirby admitted that he had to dispel the thought in camp of an easy win. He also said that his team were the second best in the first half.

“We knew DCU had some top-class players too like and we knew that coming down like. And we had to try get that talk out of our guys,” he said.

“I think we held in there in the first half and I think that’s what stood to us.”

UL led 1-11 to 1-09 at half time.

Speaking at the pre-match alumni event Richie Hogan, who also hurled for DCU, said that, although outsiders were giving them no hope; “DCU have some great hurlers and UL won’t underestimate them”.

This much was obvious as UL came out after the half-time break firing on all cylinders.

DCU marksman Donal Burke was in fine form scoring 10 points for the university. His tally was only bettered by an extremely impressive Jason Forde who notched up a goal and nine points for UL.

After the pair traded points at the beginning of the second half the trend from the first half prevailed once again. Silly wides and soft frees on DCU’s part saw UL take advantage of their second half wind.

It was clear that UL were a class above DCU and when man-of-the-match David Fitzgerald struck his second score from wing back they had built up a seven-point lead.

Foley led a UL wingback line that was dominant and which stemmed the flow of ball into DCU’s full forward line.

After a beautiful goal by UL’s Ronan Lynch the game looked beyond DCU but they continued to fight for an unlikely win. A scoring spree from DCU left them in sight of UL and there could have been a very different outcome if it weren’t for a brace of one-on-one saves from McCarthy.

The game came to boiling point as frustrations from DCU were clear. Some handbags from DCU’s Curran and UL’s Brian Troy saw the pair yellow carded and from the resulting throw in DCU capitalised on the loose ball to score a consolation goal.

It appeared that DCU could have mounted a greater challenge, but captain Conor Delaney felt that UL were deserved winners.

“I’m disappointed, you know, everyone is feeling the same after that,” he said.

“We lost out to a better UL team on the day, so we can have no argument with that. Just generally disappointed with that.”

Speaking after the game a disheartened DCU manager, Eoin Roche said that he was disappointed with how his team performed on the day. Roche eluded to DCU’s early missed chances and the effect they could have had on the outcome.

“We should have taken more goal chances at the start of the game,” he said.

“We should have possibly pushed on them a little bit more in the first 10 mins of the second half too.”

Roche, though extremely disappointed, was hopeful for the future of DCU hurling.

“We’ll just take an example from CIT, they have won the last four leagues and they have pushed on and, in the championships, getting to semi, quarter, and finals the last couple of years,” he said.

“We will go back in September or October and we will go at it again.”

DCU Dóchas Éireann: Oisín Foley, Conor McSweeney, Eoghan O’Donnell, Paul O’Dea, Aaron Maddock, Conor Delaney, Paudie Foley, Joe O’Connor, Darren Mullen, Fergal Whitely, Rian McBride, Donal Burke, John Donnelly, Peter Hogan, Patrick Curran. SUBS: Daire Grey, Killian Doyle, Eoghan Conroy, Conor Burke.

University of Limerick: David McCarthy, Aidan McGuane, Conor Cleary, Seán Finn, Barry Heffernan, Gearóid Hegarty, David Fitzgerald, Tony Kelly, Ronan Lynch, Ian Galvin, Kevin O’Brien, Tom Morrissey, John McGrath, Jason Forde, Barry Murphy. SUBS: Michael Casey, Pat Ryan, David Gleeson, Brian Troy, Jordan Henley.

Micheál Ó Scannáil

Image Credit: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile