Ultra-competitive colleges’ arena helping Cork’s young guns graduate with honours
The surprise Munster finalists have extensive third-level networks, which Cork especially have built on
Cork’s Conor Lehane, one of ten players in the side who have played for UCC. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Where did Cork and Limerick come from? This year’s Munster hurling final, tomorrow at the Gaelic Grounds, was not the most obvious call before the season began. Even on the basis of what’s been coming through the development systems, the underage achievements of Tipperary and Clare in recent years made them more conventional candidates.
Cork and Limerick contested a thrilling provincial under-21 final, won by Limerick two years ago, but their senior status last May was that of two teams who will spend next spring in Division1B of the hurling league, having lost critical play-offs in April.
There is however another perspective. Cork and Limerick have between them five Fitzgibbon Cup colleges, who have won six of the last nine titles and provided 12 of the 18 most recent finalists.
It is however complicated in relation to the Limerick colleges, which haven’t been noted for the enrolment of local inter-county talent, much as was the case with Waterford IT until the last decade.
Eamonn Cregan, an All-Ireland winner with Limerick as a player and Offaly as a manager, coaches the smallest of the Limerick colleges, Mary Immaculate, who reached their first Fitzgibbon final this year.
“I look at UL and LIT and the number of Limerick players who’ve made the teams is tiny. Of LIT’s three Fitzgibbon (winning) teams Paudie O’Brien and Wayne McNamara are the only ones I remember playing although Paul Browne and Seánie Tobin played on the team that lost to UL in the (2011) final.”
Séamus Hickey hurled for the winning UL team two years ago and when the college lost the 2005 final, current panellist Niall Moran was on the team. So whereas the local Fitzgibbon influence isn’t non-existent, neither is it substantial.
Cregan has a few local players under his wing but just one of those involved tomorrow, albeit the top scorer from the win over Tipperary: “We’ve Declan Hannon and a number of others who aren’t part of the Limerick panel.”
Cork’s team is based on Fitzgibbon hurlers who played for Cork IT and UCC, especially the latter who have been the dominant force in the third-level game over the past two years.
“Anthony Nash was brilliant for UCC last year and couldn’t play this year because of the new restrictions on the number of years a player can compete in third-level. Conor Lehane had a super Fitzgibbon this year; William Egan had a super Fitzgibbon this year and last year. Séamus Harnedy’s been excellent this year.”
Intercounty recognition has broadened those reputations. Lehane’s star has been rising since first appearing for the seniors two years ago and Nash is the current All Star goalkeeper. Harnedy’s championship debut against Clare ended with the Man of the Match citation.