By the last week of February, it had already been a phenomenal start to the year for UCC sport. UCC completed the first Sigerson-Fitzgibbon cup double in 31 years last month, while earlier in the month, UCC beat UL to take the Collingwood Cup to clinch their 14th win in the competition. UCC also extended its partnership with Cork City FC earlier this year.
UCC tasted Sigerson Cup glory at long last after being in the wilderness since their last win in 2014. Spectators who turned out at the Portlaoise venue to watch the most prestigious event in third-level Gaelic football were treated to an entertaining contest. St Mary’s of Belfast made sure of a close contest, matching UCC all the way in the first half of play. Sean O’Shea delivered yet another impressive display as UCC overcame 14-man St Mary’s by 0-16 to 1-9 in the final at O’Moore Park. The sides exchanged points early on before UCC took a 2 point lead. But St Mary’s turned the tie around courtesy of a mix up in the UCC goal. ‘The Ranch’ goal came from a mistake in the UCC defence when Ryan Coleman’s point effort dropped short and found its way to Mark White’s net. The power of Kerry football was put on show from UCC as the same four Kingdom players were responsible for all of UCC’s first-half scores as they led by 0-9 to 1-3 at the interval. In the second half, Kerry sensation O’Shea carried on his terrific scoring form by hitting seven points while fellow county men Padraig Clifford, Padraig Lucey and Graham O’Sullivan also stood out the winners. Into the second period, Stephen McGuigan and Cian Kiely traded scores before an excellent effort from Ryan McCusker reduced the deficit to two. A crucial turning point came when 2017 champions St Mary’s had to play the last quarter with 14-men after wing-forward Ryan Boyle received his marching orders from referee David Gough (yellow card, followed by a black). The Armagh native was dismissed at a crucial juncture of the second-half when Gavin McGilly’s charges looked like the team with all the momentum after they had cut the deficit to one-point having trailed by four at one stage. UCC then hit four in succession via O’Shea, Clifford and substitutes James Naughton and Garry Murphy to pull clear.
As for the hurling, UCC stayed true to form in a high scoring encounter with 2017 champions Mary Immaculate College in WIT arena. Goals from joint-captain Conor Browne and Player of the Match Mark Kehoe helped UCC to an emphatic Fitzgibbon Cup final victory. The victory rounded of an historic week as the hurlers emulated the work done in the Sigerson days before. The match was tipped to be a tight one with Mary I flexing their muscles in the semi-final to dispatch of NUIG, but in truth, UCC ran the show from first whistle to last. The sides traded early points before Tipperary U21 star Kehoe scored one of the finest goals the college has ever seen. He weaved around 4 defenders before absorbing a smashing hit from Philip Hickey and finishing the move in style. Kehoe and the rest of the inside line had the Mary I full backs in all kinds of bother. Three of them received yellows by half time. Mary I were over-reliant on star man Aaron Gillane as his 8 frees never came close enough to catching a UCC team that scored so easily from play. UCC’s own free taking marksman Shane Conway finished with a total tally of 6 points and was instrumental in the team pulling away from their Limerick counterparts. By the time co-captain Browne found the back of the net in the 40th minute, UCC were 10 points clear and well on their way to the eventual 2-21 to 0-13 blowout. This victory marks a record 39th title for UCC, the most successful team in the competitions history.
Outside the GAA world, UCC fought back late on to claim their 14th Collingwood Cup title in a thrilling match-up with UL at the Markets Field in Limerick. UL were chasing their first ever Collingwood triumph and led for a large majority of the game after Alan Murphy gave them the lead in the 37th minute of the first half. They looked on course to see out the final minutes but UCC never gave an inch and their determination paid dividend when Simon Falvey got on the end of a cross from Patrick Crowley to steer home the equaliser with just 4 minutes left in normal time. UCC struck again two minutes after the restart when skipper Rob Slevin headed home what proved to be the winner from Garan Manley’s perfectly flighted corner kick to give the Cork side their third win in the past five years. Slevin was awarded the accolade of Player of the Tournament following the victory.