Hurling & Camogie

Three is the magic number for UL in Fitzgibbon decider

UL are on a remarkable winning streak with 14 wins from 14 championship games since Brian Ryan took over for 2022

Clare's Mark Rodgers in action against Kilkenny's Tommy Walsh and Adrian Mullen in last year's SHC semi-final Picture by Philip Walsh
Star man: UL and Clare star Mark Rodgers in action against Kilkenny's Tommy Walsh and Adrian Mullen in last year's SHC semi-final Picture by Philip Walsh

Brian Ryan reckons UL have yet to reach their best as they close in on a historic Electric Ireland Fitzgibbon Cup three-in-a-row.

The Limerick outfit are an hour from becoming the first team since UCC between 1996 and 1998 to string three titles together.

Cork great Joe Deane was part of an elite crew of players who featured in all three of those finals for UCC.

Current Tipperary star Gearoid O’Connor and Galway defender TJ Brennan are among a group now who can potentially match the feat.

UL are on a remarkable winning streak with 14 wins from 14 championship games since Ryan took over for 2022.

They breezed through the group stage again this term with huge wins over ATU Galway and TUS Midwest.

After that they took care of UCC in the quarter-finals before edging out University of Galway by a point in Wednesday night’s dramatic semi-final.

University of Galway also lost finals to UL in 2022 and 2023 and this weekend’s opponents Mary Immaculate College will be desperate to avoid that fate.

Asked if winning the three-in-a-row would mean a lot to him, UL manager Ryan shrugged.

“It would of course but really what I’m more keen on is that this team reaches its potential for the current season,” said Ryan. “I’m not convinced yet that we have been at our best. And I’m hoping that in this final we’ll see players kick on to reach the heights and the potential that we know this team has.”

All eyes will be on UL score-poacher O’Connor given his terrific form so far in 2024, for college and county.

Clare star Mark Rodgers - one of six players who started both last year’s final for UL and Wednesday night’s semi-final win - scored 1-3 midweek.

O’Connor and Brennan have both started their county team’s two National League games so far, leaving Ryan with a job of work to manage their loads.

Podge Collins has represented Clare in both hurling and football
Change of role: Podge Collins has represented Clare in both hurling and football

“For the last number of years, they’ve played the semi-finals on the Thursday and you were out again on the Saturday so that extra 24 hours this week is welcome,” said Ryan.

“We’re doing okay but lads are obviously tired, particularly the inter-county lads. They’ve had a hectic schedule, the likes of Gearoid O’Connor in particular, TJ Brennan, they’ve all played with their counties.

“We were fortunate that both the Limerick and Clare contingents were rested last weekend. That has helped the overall scenario for us.”

Clare’s Shane Meehan struck 1-3 in Mary I’s semi-final defeat of SETU Waterford on Wednesday. Boss Jamie Wall experienced Electric Ireland Fitzgibbon Cup wins in 2016 and 2017 while they came up short in the 2019 final against UCC. Wall’s current star-studded team possesses players from Limerick, Clare, Tipperary, Waterford, Galway and his own native Cork.

“They have a great manager and they have Podge Collins in coaching them as well,” said Ryan of the opposition. “They have been impressive in their matches so far, so we’ll have it all to do.”

It has all the ingredients for a classic final and if UL can pinch just one more win then their band of brothers will celebrate a landmark achievement.

“They’re all good friends,” said Ryan of his group. “I think we had 10 or 11 of the players in two houses in Castletroy at one stage. These players don’t just come together to play the match and are gone again, they’re living together, they’re studying together. They’re a very close-knit bunch of players and that’s what we’ve tried to encourage. There has to be that team spirit and that team ethos there.”