MARY IMMACULATE COLLEGE LIMERICK 1-20 NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF IRELAND GALWAY 2-16
Title-holders Mary Immaculate showed the steel that fashions champions when coming back from the dead to snatch a dramatic victory over NUI Galway on their home pitch on Thursday and scrape out of their group for a Fitzgibbon Cup quarter-final clash with DCU Dóchas Éireann.
Needing victory to overcome an inferior score difference, they were zapped by a pair of Conor Whelan goals to fall four points behind with seven regulation minutes to go and the exit beckoned when two frantic goal attempts were stopped on the line and their opponents halted the rally to put two between the sides going into injury time.
But that was when Gary Cooney put up his hand. Roared on by a huge, passionate and predominantly female attendance, the Clare student followed up Aaron Gillane’s free with an equaliser from a tight angle and then repeated the heroics from almost the same position to lift from a scramble and split the posts with the last puck of the game.
It was no more than his side deserved. While NUIG may count themselves unlucky to be edged out at the end of an absorbing hour, Mary I never once lost the fierce conviction that has catapulted them in just five years from second grade hopefuls into back-to-back winners of third-level’s premier hurling competition.
Whelan got the game going within seconds of the throw-in to shoot NUIG into the lead and, after that was met by Gillane’s free, Aidan Helebert and Darragh Burke’s free restored the Galway college’s advantage. The game changed when Mary I found the pitch of the blustery cross-field wind and drew another three fouls for Gillane to convert into a lead. The looked to have settled into the groove when Cooney followed up with their first from play and Gillane tapped over his fifth placed ball but play then a few handbagging confrontations broke up play.
When action resumed, Burke replied with a free and, after Luke Meade found the posts up at the other end off a run, added two more to pare the gap back to a point. However, Mary I found an inspiring response off David Prendergast’s strike from half-way and looking at clear blue water again when Colm Guilfoyle whipped to the net from a scramble following Shane Hennessy’s save off Gillane’s goal-bound shot.
Cooney then added a point off a sniping run but, going into added time, Burke aent over a pair of frees before Gillane replied with one of his own to leave his side leading 1-10 to 0-8. Both sides missed opportunities on the restart but, after Whelan was met by Mary I goalie Eoghan Cahill’s 90-metre free, the visitors upped through the gears for Whelan’s strike and a brace of Burke frees to bring the margin back to the minimum. Already inflicting damage from their runs down the right, they shot ahead when Whelan found the gap to slot to the net.
The champions responded immediately. Gillane’s free equalised, Pa Ryan pointed on the run to restore their lead and a long Gillane free doubled the gap. But it was gone within a minute as Burke and Pádraic Mannion sent over frees and, after Mary I were controversially denied a free in front of goals, NUIG rubbed it in by sending one over at the other end to regain the advantage.
The Teachers hadn’t regained their composure for the puckout and back came another onslaught down the right with Brian Concannon’s run creating the overlap and leaving Whelan the space to pick where to plant his second goal. They could have answered immediately but Guilfoyle’s fierce drive was deflected over by Hennessy and their next attempt from Brian Corry was again saved, this time at the expense of a ‘65’ which Gillane sent over.
A Gillane free, brought in for dissent, had them back within a point but their task doubled when Concannon scored off a breakaway. However, the champs kept their focus as they threw everything into attack. Gillane found another free to punish, Cooney took the pass to point off Prendergast’s battering run and, just as it appeared that time had run out in a frantic goalmouth melee, he nipped into a momentary vacuum to pilfer the match-winning score.
SCORERS, MARY IMMACULATE COLLEGE LIMERICK: Aaron Gillane 0-11(10 frees, 1 ‘65’), Gary Cooney 0-4, Colm Guilfoyle 1-1, Luke Meade, Eoghan Cahill (free), Pa Ryan 0-1 each;
NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF IRELAND GALWAY: Darragh Burke 0-9 (9 frees), Conor Whelan 2-3, Aidan Helebert, Pádraic Mannion (free), Gearóid Loughnane, Brian Concannon 0-1 each.
MARY IMMACULATE COLLEGE LIMERICK: Eoghan Cahill (Offaly); Chris McCullagh (Tipperary), David Prendergast (Waterford), Darragh Peters (Tipperary); Colm Guilfoyle (Clare), Shane Taylor (Clare), Seán Bourke (Cork); James Mackey (Tipperary), Luke Meade (Cork); Aaron Gillane (Limerick), Cian Lynch (Limerick), Pa Ryan (Tipperary); Gary Cooney (Clare), Tim O’Mahony (Cork), Brian Corry (Clare).
NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF IRELAND GALWAY: Shane Hennessy (Tipperary); Barry Fitzpatrick (Clare), Conor Cosgrove (Galway), Ciarán O’Connor (Galway); Seán Loftus (Galway), Conor Ryan (Tipperary), Pádraic Mannion (Galway); Brian Concannon (Galway), Shane Fletcher (Tipperary); Cathal Mannion (Galway), Darragh Burke (Galway), Conor Whelan (Galway); John Fox (Limerick), Michael Lynch (Galway), Aidan Helebert (Galway). SUBS: Ronan Elwood (Galway) for Aidan Helebert (38 minutes), Gearóid Loughnane for John Fox (46 minutes).
REFEREE: Alfie Devine (Westmeath).