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'We wouldn’t have the highest profile' - the history chasing IT out to halt UCC's drive for 40th title

DJ Carey’s Carlow side are looking to win the third-level competition for the first time this Wednesday.

UCC MANAGER TOM Kingston was breathless when he spoke to the media after his side’s dramatic Fitzgibbon Cup semi-final win over DCU on Saturday afternoon

mark-coleman-with-the-winning-side-line Mark Coleman looks on as sideline shot goes over the bar to edge UCC to victory. Source: Tom O'Hanlon/INPHO

A tight battle, played in the jaws of Storm Ciara’s biting wind, was heading for extra-time with UCC’s crown on the line.

DCU could even have had their noses in front had they converted a goal opportunity in those final frantic minutes, when the defending champions coughed up possession outside their own goal.

But the move resulted in just a point for the host side. And when a match-winning moment was presented to UCC at the death, Mark Coleman’s heroic sideline steered them to victory.

At the risk of reaching for the obvious pun, they weathered the storm to keep their title defence on track.

Kingston had barely gathered his bearings when he was asked for an assessment of their dramatic win.

“I’m out of breath,” he said after the final whistle, the relentless wind still swirling around him.

“It was an incredibly hard, incredibly tough game. The conditions were really difficult, it was so hard for both sides.

“We were under serious pressure but I can’t say enough about our guys, the way they came back. It was incredible what they did. DCU looked as though they were on top and in the zone.

“But in fairness, our lads never dropped their heads. They kept fighting and fighting. And then Mark Coleman put that over so it’s just incredible.”

UCC’s pedigree in this competition is quite clear.

When they return to the DCU Sportsground on Wednesday evening for the 2020 Fitzgibbon Cup final, they will be chasing back-to-back crowns, and their 40th title in all.

Their opponents IT Carlow don’t have the same decorated record at this level. They’ve yet to win out the competition. However, they are a rising force in the Fitzgibbon Cup having already reached the final for the first time ever in 2017.

Their manager DJ Carey was also at the helm for that decider where they were defeated by Mary I.

Fortunes were reversed when the sides were reunited in the Fitzgibbon Cup semi-final on Saturday as Carlow’s five-goal display propelled them into the showpiece.

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Wexford’s Cathal Dunbar contributed a brace of goals to that tally, while Chris Nolan, Stephen Bergin and Liam Blanchfield also rattled the net for Carlow. That spread of goal-scoring threats is something that Kingston’s UCC must be mindful of when they meet in the final.

dj-carey DJ Carey's IT Carlow are aiming for their first Fitzgibbon Cup crown. Source: Tom O'Hanlon/INPHO

But despite their 14-point semi-final win, Carey was quick to point out the contrasts between his side and the imperious holders.

“We’re delighted, we’re thrilled,” he said after getting the better of Mary I.

Delighted for the college and delighted for these lads, because they wouldn’t have the highest profile in the competition. They’re a small IT and it’s brilliant. We’re coming off the back of the footballers getting to the final.

“You can say, okay, we got well beaten [in the Sigerson], but at the end of the day it’s a massive achievement getting to the final as well.”

The five-time All-Ireland winner Carey went on to list the major games his charges have lost in this competition that have steeled them for another march to the final.

“We were beaten three years ago by Mary I in the final. Two years ago we were beaten by UL, who went on to win it. Last year by UCC in the quarter-final, who went on and won it. We’ve been beaten in very tight games over that period of time.

“At the end of the day, you want to be in a final. Finals are there to be won. We’ll be up against UCC who are a big team this year in Fitzgibbon. But we’ll be delighted to be up against them.”

A strong showing from Carlow in the final 10 minutes was enough to secure their passage to the final, but it was far less straight forward for UCC.

Their experience was certainly a factor in helping over the line, but Kingston opted to focus more on the character they showed to hold off the challenge from DCU.

We finished like champions. Heart is thing you need to win Fitzgibbon or any championship. You have to have fighting heart and winning heart and our fellas showed it in abundance.”

The title holders could have another breathless encounter on their hands when Wednesday rolls around.

Fitzgibbon Cup final:

UCC v IT Carlow, DCU Sportsground, 7.30pm.

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