Morgan steers UCC to title after 16-year wait

 

SIGERSON CUP FINAL: UCC 0-10 UUJ 0-7:APPROPRIATELY, THE centenary of one of the GAA’s oldest competitions came to a traditional climax on Saturday as one of the original participants, UCC, won a first title in 16 years, their 21st in all.

The Ulster Bank Sigerson Cup reverted to an eight-team weekend for the centenary and the effect on both finalists of playing a third match in successive days could be seen at various stages, particularly when the winners had to weather Jordanstown’s rapid-fire start to the final quarter when they doubled their tally with four points in four minutes.

Hosts UCD may consider it scant consolation for their narrow defeat by the eventual winners in Friday’s semi-final, but they organised a memorable tournament, its presence enlivening the Belfield campus over the last week.

Almost personally embodying the Sigerson’s traditions, UCC manager Billy Morgan – whose iconic status in Cork football includes an association with the college that stretches back through nearly half of the competition’s history to his first medal 45 years ago – explained in the final’s tumultuous aftermath how his team had come through the field as outsiders in each of their three matches.

“We’d no marquee names, but a very, very solid panel with very few weaknesses and similar players on the line, who could come in if necessary. We were very confident coming up and, okay, against DCU in the quarter-finals we rode our luck, but in the end deserved it.

“I think we deserved to beat UCD and we deserved to win today.”

It would be very hard to argue with that summary. With only one recognisable inter-county name, Cork panellist Jamie O’Sullivan, UCC’s victory was a triumph of the collective over the individual.

“I won two Sigerson Cup medals myself and they’re among my most treasured possessions,” said Morgan. “They were the first things I won and they rank up there with the All-Irelands I won, the county medals and the AllIreland clubs.

“This is a unique competition and it actually pains me to see some sections of the GAA are trying to push it aside.”

That reference to criticism of the place of third-level activity in the GAA calendar was supplemented by a reminder of the Sigerson’s role in developing the talent of the future.

“Last year when we got to the final there were three of our players brought on to the Cork panel and I’m sure you’ll hear of a lot of these players in the future – for Cork and unfortunately a good few of them for Kerry!”

A big, physical side, the Cork college worked hard and moved the ball skilfully in the final, but laboured to turn their opportunities into tangible returns, particularly with wind advantage in the first half.

Barry O’Driscoll gave Monaghan’s Dessie Moen a tough time, but the corner back’s fellow county men, centre back Donal Morgan and Conor Galligan, who got up for UUJ’s only point from play in the first half, were the best of the Jordanstown defence.

As had been the case in the previous matches, UCC’s defence was excellent – tight marking, perceptive and unflappable in moving the ball up the field. Peter Crowley, the corner back from Killorglin, had another fine match, highlighted by one first-half swoop to cut out a ball in front of his full back.

The team had to field without captain Adrian Greaney, who received the trophy on crutches after sustaining an ankle injury in the semi-final, but Roscommon’s Niall Daly slotted in at centre back and played well.

UCC’s power around the middle was ultimately decisive. Will Kennedy and James Fitzpatrick offered willing targets for Kenneth O’Halloran’s accomplished kick-outs, as did Kevin O’Driscoll and JB Spillane on the wings.

Sigerson finals tend to be low scoring and with 20 minutes left UCC had painstakingly built a five-point lead, 0-7 to 0-2, with three successive scores after the break from Kevin O’Driscoll and two frees from Barry O’Driscoll, prompting most observers to initiate premature post mortems.

Morgan had tweaked the team for the second half, moving highly-rated Kerry prospect John Buckley, just recovered from injury, from the full forwards back to centrefield and switching Kennedy into full forward.

The introduction of a bit more pace with the arrival of Stephen O’Brien revived the winners’ attack, but Jordanstown also made effective changes.

Moen was brought to wing forward and Kevin Dyas moved to centrefield and introduced more dynamism and the switches triggered a power play of sorts from UUJ.

Conor McManus, well contained by Crowley, broke away for a nice point. Ciarán McGinley, Dyas and Mattie Donnelly – who struggled against an impenetrable defence to emulate his five-point barrage against Maynooth in the semi-final – all added scores, as Jordanstown turned the match on its head.

Looking out on their feet, the Cork college somehow rallied with Spillane rock-solid under the restarts and tirelessly making himself available as support.

Kevin O’Driscoll stopped the slippage on the scoreboard and when Buckley hoisted over a great point from the right wing, the ship had steadied.

Points were swapped in injury-time, but UCC made it safely to harbour.

T rench Cup Final Morgan steersSt Patricks, Dublin 2-10 Waterford IT 0-9

UCC:K O’Halloran (Cork); P Crowley (Kerry), E O’Mahony (Cork), J O’Sullivan (Cork); S Kiely (Cork; 0-1), N Daly (Roscommon), B Daly (Cork); W Kennedy (Cork; 0-1), J Fitzpatrick (Cork); K O’Driscoll (Cork; 0-2), M Collins (Cork; 0-2, one free), JB Spillane (Kerry); B O’Driscoll (Cork; 0-3, two frees), J Buckley (Kerry; 0-1), D Casey (Kerry). Subs:S O’Brien (Kerry) for Kennedy (39 mins), S Betson (Cork) for Casey (58 mins), M Griffin (Kerry) for B O’Driscoll (60 mins).

UUJ:G Kelly (Tyrone); C Galligan (Monaghan; 0-1), B Donaghy (Armagh), D Moen (Monaghan); K Dyas (Armagh; 0-1), D Morgan (Monaghan), C McGinley (Tyrone; 0-2); C Murney (Down), N Holly (Derry); D McNulty (Tyrone), C O’Boyle (Derry), P Hughes (Tyrone); J McAnulla (Tyrone), M Donnelly (Tyrone; 0-1), C McManus (Monaghan; 0-2, one free). Subs:E McGuckin (Derry) for McAnulla (36 mins), G McCartan (Monaghan) for Murney (43 mins), C Donnelly (Tyrone) for Hughes (46 mins), J O’Neill (Armagh) for McNulty (50 mins).

Referee:D Coldrick (Meath).