UCC holding firm in face of modern competition

A busy few weeks for the Cork university begins with chance of unique double

Kerry footballer Paul Geaney is the current UCC football captain.

Kerry footballer Paul Geaney is the current UCC football captain.

 

Going into the final weekend before the start of the national league, UCC are still in the running to record a unique double. The college’s hurlers are in the semi-finals of the Waterford Crystal Cup and will face Limerick in Kilmallock tomorrow afternoon. Later in the evening in the McGrath Cup the footballers take on surprise finalists Waterford in the decider in Dungarvan.

It’s the latest evidence that Gaelic games are thriving in the university, whose hurlers lead the roll of honour in the Fitzgibbon Cup and whose footballers are currently Sigerson Cup holders and next month will host this year’s tournament.

This is despite the challenge of the past 25 years and the expansion of both tournaments, now more than 100 years old, to include all institutes of higher education. One of the issues has been that it’s harder to gain entry to the universities and each year’s intake is restricted by the CAO points requirement rather than their abilities as players.

UCC economics lecturer and Cork All-Ireland winner John Considine isn’t certain how the college has managed to survive the increasing competition and continue to prosper.

“It’s hard to identify exactly the reason behind it. It’s only last year that we brought in bonus points for elite athletes and whereas I understand where the idea was coming from – UCC were one of the last colleges to hold out and waited a long time to introduce such a scheme – it comes at a time when the Freshers have won the hurling title four times in five years despite not having any exemptions.”

At first some of the newer competing colleges led the way in their attention to the detail of developing teams and players but the established universities have long since recovered any advantage.

John Grainger is someone known for his involvement with UCC,” according to Considine and runs a modern, games development unit.

The calibre of those involved with Gaelic games in the college is another factor, he believes, in maintaining a strong profile, in turn helped by a distinguished history.

“That’s definitely a factor. Tradition plays a strong role in this. You’ve had good people in charge like Paul O’Connor, who dedicated himself to UCC hurling and then after him Eddie Enright.

Ger Cunningham [Dublin manager and former Cork coach] was over the Freshers for a number of their successes and was followed by Séamus Coffey. In football Billy Morgan, who’s a legendary figure in the game nationally, is in charge of the Sigerson team and this is about his third tour of duty with them.”

Catchment also helps with Cork being a central point in hurling territory although the arrival of Waterford IT and Limerick IT as well as the University of Limerick has expanded the choices for young hurlers going to third level.

In football there has been a strong tradition of players from Kerry enrolling in UCC and Kerry All-Ireland winner Paul Geaney is the current captain. Morgan has spoken about the irony of working with so many footballers whom he forecast would come back to haunt Cork in the colours of their old rivals.

Recently Morgan spoke out against suggestions that county players be prevented from playing in the Sigerson in order to ease the problems of potential burnout.

As a member of a GAA advisory committee on third-level games, Considine sympathises with the concerns but believes that other issues tend to intrude whenever reduction of fixture lists is discussed. He is also agnostic about the value of the colleges participating in competitions such as the Waterford Crystal and McGrath Cups.

“I’ve argued this in third-level circles – that no one is willing to pay a price themselves. You can play rugby and soccer world cups in less than two months if you want but there issues to do with television and promotion that would be used as arguments against that. The point is however that if you reduce the championship to two months, teams couldn’t train for the other 10.

“Do we want to stay in the McGrath Cup and provincial competitions?

“Yes they do fulfil a function in terms of preparation but by the end, the college teams are beginning to focus on the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon so the question could also be does the colleges’ presence fulfil a function for the competitions?”

For the moment, however, that’s not the question.

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