Thrilling Fitzgibbon Cup win over holders L.I.T.

WIT\'s John Dalton and Kevin Lanigan combine to  block the shot of Galway\'s hot inter-county prospect Joe Canning. Sean Byrne Photography

WIT's John Dalton and Kevin Lanigan combine to block the shot of Galway's hot inter-county prospect Joe Canning. Sean Byrne Photography

Waterford Institute Of Technology . . . 0-16

Limerick Institute Of Technology . . . 1-12

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They don’t come any closer than this battle of champions at well attended McGinn Park Ballygunner on Wednesday evening last, when by the narrowest of margins, 2006 Fitzgibbon Cup Champions W.I.T., just managed to get the better of 2007 titleholders L.I.T., in a thriller. From beginning to end this was hectic stuff all the way, competitive, sparkling and adorned with a number of outstanding individual performances, and in the heel of the hunt, the honours just managed to rest firmly and squarely where they belong. This second successive group victory in a week, means that the seven time winners are safely through to the knock-out quarter final stages of this most prestigious Cup competition, while the vanquished must now pin all their hopes of beating fellow Shannonside combination University of Limerick on home soil this week, to be guaranteed a place in the last eight.

Down to the wire

Most observers predicted that this would be a close run affair, and in all probability, it could go to the wire – on both counts, the pre-match predictions were fulfilled to the letter at McGinn Park, when those arch Fitzgibbon Cup rivals of long standing – W.I.T. and L.I.T., waged battle on a perfect Spring afternoon, with direct passage to the quarter finals of this long established competitions awaiting the winners. For long periods during an intensely fought initial half, the visitors marginally held the upper-hand and while to a considerable extent helped considerably by the impeccable scoring accuracy of up and coming Galway hurling star Joe Canning, they still merited their slenderest of leads at the half way stage, really made possible by a rush and grab opportunist goal by James McInerney, who really caught the W.I.T. defence off guard for the only green flag of the match nine minutes before the break. However, the home back line, ably helped by corner forward Ger Griffey, who came back to stand in the breach, when the Limerick outfit were awarded quite an legitimate penalty on the ball of half on the stroke of half time, and an invaluable block and clearance, left only the minimum (1-5 to 0-7), between the sides when the short whistle sounded.

The holders had much the better start, and points from Joe Canning in the 2nd and 5th minutes – the second from a free exactly on the 65 metre line, game L.I.T. the sort of start they had bargained on. Gradually the home side commenced to settle and while they had to wait until the game’s 13th minute, for their first of sixteen points, they were level for the first time some sixty seconds later, thanks to the industrious work of midfielder Pat Kelly, after he has swapped places with Shane O’Sullivan who had surprisingly lined out on the edge of the square.

Showing great tenacity in defence, the Shannonsiders regained their two points advantage before the end of the first quarter, thanks to a brace of well-taken points from Bernard Gaffney and Willie Hyland. Just to show that he was human after all, Joe Canning saw a well placed free delivery come back off the upright in the 17th minute, and while his fellow Galway native Niall Healy smartly found the range a minute later, the trend of play still favoured the visitors to justify the well supported pre-match favourite tag. The situation was back to the minimum after Shane O’Sullivan set up Stephen Lillis for a peach of a point in the 20th minute, but direct from the puck out, the holders broke up field and the finishing touch to the W.I.T. net came from James McInerney, after he had fully exploited loose marking in the home defence. To their credit, the Waterford side recovered quickly from that setback, and three points on the trot in a little over as many minutes from Pat Kelly, T.J. Reid and Fintan O’Leary, left only the minimum between the teams and just under three minutes to go for half time. The solid work rate of Alan Byrne, Maurice O’Brien and Shane Maher more than anything else still left the initiative with the Limerick side, and when they forced the game’s only penalty on the call of half time, it certainly looked as if they would go into recess four points to the good. However, nobody made the W.I.T. rearguard of that script, and one of the biggest cheers of the evening greeted the manner in which Joe Canning’s screamer of a shot was stopped by the three man wall and Ger Griffey in particular, and to the relief of the predominately home following, the short whistle seconds later, left the outcome more open that ever, with L.I.T marginally ahead on a score line of 1-5 to 0-7.

True grit prevailed

If the first half was good, the concluding period was even better. Right from the restart, this Cup match really took off. Inside three minutes of the restart Kilkenny star T.J. Reid from a free brought about equality for the second time, and even though Willie Hyland promptly restored the visitors half time lead, concern grew in the home camp, when a couple of handy frees went astray. However, it really started to go right for the winners when Ray McLoughney took over the free taking duties, and Tipperary lad brought about equality for the third time, when he converted a ‘65′ in the 41st minute, and gave his side the lead for the very first time a minute later with a neat delivery from play and under pressure.

This rip roaring second half still had a few more twists and turns to go before the contest moved into it’s fourth and final quarter. Cyril Donnellan levelled matters again in the 43rd minute, and when the game’s top scorers T.J. Reid and Joe Canning exchanged points, it was all square for the fourth and final time, with twelve minutes of normal time remaining. Excitement intensified after that – Shane O’Sullivan found Ray Moloughney and W.I.T. were marginally back in front again – the last mentioned quickly added another white flag from a free, and now a home win for the first time appeared very much on the cards.

Not for long however – Joe Canning pointed a prodigious free and missed from a more advantageous position, before T.J. Reid bringing all his experience to bear put two points between the sides for the third time in the 53rd minute. It was all systems go now, Joe Canning (free) and Fintan O’Leary traded points and it most assuredly looked as if both teams would have to settle for a division of spoils after L.I.T., rifled over balancing points by Willie Hyland and Joe Canning (free) in the 57th and 59th minutes respectively, but fittingly, it fell to second half hero Ray Moloughney to get the all important clinching winning point on the call of time – and what a beauty it was into the bargain.

Final score again – Waterford I.T. 0-16; Limerick I.T. 1-12.

 

Solid winning performance

This was without reservation a solid winning performance by the W.I.T. side – they might have been a little slow in getting off the mark at the outset, but the manner in which they stuck resolutely to their task, and especially their blistering second half come back, more than earned them a place in the knock out stages of the Cup. They paraded a first class defence, in which the likes of John Dalton, Pat Hartley, Shane Fives and especially Kevin Moran, proved most efficient, while the switch between Pat Kelly and Shane O’Sullivan unquestionably worked like a charm in both instances, while in a smart moving attack, T.J. Reid, Fintan O’Leary, and Ray McLoughney repeatedly caught the eye and proved more than a handful for the champions.

The vanquished know that all they have to do now is to beat their fellow Limerick side (U.L.), and their quarter final place will also be assured – they knew that coming to Waterford would present them with a huge under taking, and while they might have been flattered to at least secure a draw, it was certainly no fault of the likes of Alan Byrne, Maurice O’Brien, Shane Maher, James McInerney, Willie Hyland, Jonathon Clancy and Joe Canning ,that they failed to do so.

All in all a great game of hurling and should the same two teams meet as well they might later on in the season, it will surely be something to look forward to with considerable relish.

Scorers

W.I.T.: T.J. Reid 0-6, Ray Moloughney 0-5, Pat Kelly and Fintan O’Leary 0-2 each, Stephen Lillis 0-1.

L.I.T.: Joe Canning 0-6, James McInerney 1-0, Willie Hyland, Bernard Gaffney, Niall Healy an Bernard Gaffney 0-1 each.

Teams

Waterford Institute of Technology: Adrian Power (Waterford), Kevin Lanigan (Tipperary), John Dalton (Kilkenny), Conor Cooney (Clare), Shane Fives (Waterford), Pat Hartley (Kilkenny), Kevin Moran (Waterford), Pat Kelly (Clare), Stephen Lillis (Tipperary), Fintan O’Leary (Cork), T.J. Reid (Kilkenny), Ronan Good (Cork), Ray McLoughney (Tipperary), Shane O’Sullivan (Waterford), Ger Griffey (Clare). Subs – Tom Moloney (Kilkenny) for G. Griffey,

Limerick Institute Of Technology: Matthew Ryan (Tipperary), Michael Walsh (Cork), Alan Byrne (Tipperary), Enda Collins (Clare), Maurice O’Brien (Limerick), Shane Maher (Tipperary), Garry O’Connell (Clare), Niall Healy (Galway), Jonathon Clancy (Clare), Willie Hyland (Laois), Cyril Donnellan (Galway), Austin Murphy (Kilkenny), Bernard Gaffney (Clare), Joe Canning (Galway), James McInerney (Clare), Subs – Sean Tobin (Limerick), for A. Murphy, Brian Moloney (Limerick) for B. Gaffney.

Referee: Cathal McAllister (Cork).

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