Cork stars lead UCC to O’Connor Cup final
Cork stars were very much to the fore as UCC ended UCD’s reign as O’Connor Cup champions, writes Jackie Cahill.
Niamh Cotter netted a brace of goals and Libby Coppinger added another as UCC, winners last in 2012, progressed to the final for the first time since that success.
UCD, who won the competition for the first time in a decade last year, came a cropper against UCC at the Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence, losing out by 0-7 to 3-10.
Meanwhile, last year’s runners-up University of Limerick came from behind to advance to a third successive final.
In a titanic battle, DCU were five points clear with eleven minutes left, before UL reeled them in to claim a 1-15 to 2-8 victory.
That was the opening game of an O’Connor Cup semi-final double-header, and DCU were off to the perfect start when Eva Woods netted from their first attack.
With Mayo star Sarah Rowe prominent, DCU remained on the front foot, before both goalkeepers were called into action.
DCU’s Aisling Tarpey, forcing Kerry’s Laura Rogers to shoot wide, before UL netminder Lisa Crowley pulled off a stunning save to deny Éabha Rutledge.
Tarpey did brilliantly again to keep out Shauna Howley before Rowe, with the score of the match to date, collected a point to put DCU 1-5 to 0-5 up at half-time.
Shauna Howley rattled the DCU crossbar early in the second half, before landing a magnificent point.
Trailing by 0-6 to 1-6, UL were back in contention with points from sub Róisín Howard and Cork ace Eimear Scally, before a Rowe point settled DCU again.
In a repeat of the 2015 final, DCU looked to have taken a significant step towards Sunday’s final when Aisling Sheridan outjumped Crowley to fist the ball to the UL net.
Crucial Scally frees kept UL in touch but a comeback was still looking unlikely, until Tarpey had the ball in her possession before it was tackled from her grasp and into the net by Howley.
Scally converted a 14-metre free soon after and having moved clear, UL would not be caught.
Rogers, Howley and Aisling McCarthy added further points to send UL through, with full-time finally confirmed after a lengthy stoppage.
In the second semi-final, defending champions UCD opened well with a point from Maria McGrath but UCC responded with Cotter’s first goal.
Cotter’s Cork team-mate and 2016 All-Ireland final star Doireann O’Sullivan was superb in the first half, and UCC had daylight when Coppinger took a pass from Orlagh Farmer before sending a looping shot to the net.
At the break, UCC were 2-4 to 0-5 clear and O’Sullivan opened with intent, adding another point.
The end result was put beyond any doubt when Cotter profited from Áine O’Sullivan’s work to score a third goal for UCC, and they ran out comprehensive 12-point winner.
UCC and UL will contest the final at Elvery's MacHale Park on Sunday afternoon, with a 4pm throw-in.