UCC can again frustrate RTC in Cork clash
THE third-level season swings into action this afternoon with five first-round matches in the Fitzgibbon Cup. The indications are that this year's competition is particularly open as several dominant personalities have graduated into the real world in the last 12 months.
The match of the round looks to be the all-Cork clash at the Mardyke between holders UCC and the Cork RTC. Since their arrival on the scene under John Meyler, the RTC has had a frustrating time in these local battles, losing narrowly to College in both Fitzgibbon and Sigerson encounters in recent years.
Meyler bemoaned the fact that they even lost to their university neighbours on Challenging Times, the third-level television quiz competition.
The RTC has slipped a little since the halcyon days when they had Brian Corcoran and Kilkenny's Pat O'Neill on their books and last year they were shocked in the Fitzgibbon by DCU, ironically boasting Cork's under-age star Sean Og O hAilpin.
UCC have lost a couple of influential players, including captain and Clare All-Ireland medallist Frank Lohan, Limerick's Owen O'Neill and John Collins, the west Corkman who was last year's Hurler of the Tournament.
As ever, their back-up is impressive. With Cork's Joel Deane and captain Kieran Morrison and Tipperary's John Enright still available and they will be fancied to advance and mount a strong campaign to retain the Cup.
Among UCC's challengers, UCG are attracting approving glances and are putting in a strong challenge at least to reach their first semi-finals since 1988 after disappointing in recent years with three straight defeats by UL and even one by Trinity.
Since being herded into the gym last October, their efforts have been impressive and they have won all their league matches to date. Though there is a reluctance to dismiss DIT's chances too easily, the westerners, with Galway's Cathal Moore and Laois's Declan Rooney, look formidable.
Trinity travel more in hope than expectation to Limerick where last year's finalists UL will be favoured to progress. They have lost last year's captain Sean McMahon, who gave distinguished service to the university, as well as Ger Maguire.
They haven't scorched the earth in the league but have supplemented proven performers like Wexford's All-Ireland medallist Rory McCarthy, Wolfe Tones' and Clare reserve goalkeeper Damien Garrihy and Limerick's John Foley with Galway minor star Michael Healy.
At Belfield, UCD take on the Garda College with the visitors apparently in flying form. With a strong inter-county contingent and the painful experience of having been robbed of last year's semi-final by a light-fingered UL, the Templemore college will expect to overcome the home side and challenge seriously for the title.
Finally, Waterford RTC are rebuilding after the departure of most of their winning 1995 side but their structures are sound and their intake of sufficient quality to see off new arrivals, the Kevin Broderick-driven Athlone RTC.
On Saturday last year's semi-finalists Maynooth travel to Queen's, Belfast while DCU and UUJ both have byes to Saturday week's quarter-finals.