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Sigerson Glory for the Skull-and-Crossbones

It has been a stellar year for UCC Gaelic football, with our senior team claiming the coveted Sigerson Cup. Here, Jane Haynes relives the joy of this glorious victory with captain Jack Murphy, teammate Brian Hartnett and UCC Gaelic Games Development Officer, John Grainger.

20 Mar 2023

‘Complete relief’ followed by ‘a flood of joy’ is how Jack Murphy, captain of UCC’s senior Gaelic football team, describes the feeling of realising, as the final whistle blew, that his team had just won the revered Sigerson Cup.

Anyone watching the 60-plus-minute thriller, who was cheering on the skull-and-crossbones, would echo Jack’s sentiments. The 1-16 to 0-16 win – the 24th Sigerson title for UCC – was hard-fought against their tenacious University of Limerick (UL) opponents. Set against stinging wind and rain in Waterford’s South East Technological University, the battle raged into extra-time before Billy Morgan’s side emerged victorious.

For Jack, from Ovens, who plays his club football with Éire Óg, winning the Sigerson Cup is the cherry on top of what has been an ‘unbelievable journey’ for himself and his teammates.

‘This year has been a special year,’ he says. ‘We made a different bond, for one reason or another – probably down to Billy and the management team bringing everyone together.’

Jack, who graduated from Business Information Systems and is now undertaking the MSc in Data Science and Analytics, gives insight into a team that is as technically and tactically sharp as it is bonded – and has a unique and special edge.

Brian Hartnett and Jack Murphy

‘The element that we feel we have over a lot of the colleges is really delivered in Billy, in most senses – it’s his passion and emotion for UCC, he’s able to make us aware of that,’ says Jack.

‘Billy would always be talking about how we have been in this competition for a century and won 24 times. When you see the passion and emotion that he has when we’re in training and team talks, it would really make you want to go through a wall for him.

‘Every team will have good tactics or good balance, but we’ve got really good buy-in from players as great friends and, on top of that, the passion that Billy has for the UCC jersey really feeds into our team.’

Winning a title this prestigious takes immense hard work, dedication and grit, and this team rose to the challenge. This year’s Sigerson campaign was a tough one which saw UCC battle through two penalty shoot-outs and three bouts of extra-time. Jack admits that UCC were considered the underdogs going into several of the fixtures, but they pulled it back each time.

It speaks volumes that, when asked about his leadership style, the captain says: ‘I’m very lucky that I never have to motivate anyone on our team, for the most part, because everyone has already sacrificed so much.’

Mark Cronin, Ronnie Dalton, Billy Morgan and Brian Murphy

Those sacrifices lie somewhere between balancing a full-time degree course with UCC training schedules, along with club and county commitments and, of course, their personal lives. The support of the management and training teams is instrumental, but the commitment of these young players to their sport is inspiring.

And they do that for each other; the friendship element is hugely important to the team, says Jack: ‘It makes it even more special when you’re winning with your friends. It’s great to be playing alongside people who you’re going to be lifelong friends with. It’ll be a memory that I’ll cherish.’

Douglas man Brian Hartnett, who is currently undertaking the MSc in Biotechnology and has been playing football with UCC since Freshers, shares Jack’s sentiment. The Sigerson Cup final was in fact his last match with UCC, and, beyond the ‘relief’ and ‘joy’ of winning the title, his greatest memories are tied to the friends he has made along the way.

‘You’re playing with lads that you’ll never get a chance to play with again, from different clubs in Cork and different counties – Tipperary and Kerry, and even from further up the country,’ he explains.

‘We have fantastic memories together – even from the bus journeys, we had serious craic throughout the year. It’s all about the friends you meet, and the management as well, who do so much for the college.’

Billy Morgan and John Grainger

John Grainger, Gaelic Games Development Officer, is a stalwart of that management team. Having taken over from the late Eamonn Ryan in 2008, he is charged with promoting Gaelic games in UCC across teams from football to hurling, camogie and ladies’ football. John is one of around 80 people involved in the coaching of UCC’s players, alongside the likes of Billy Morgan, Charlie McLaughlin, Mick Reynolds, Michael Twomey, John Clifford, Dr Paul O’Keeffe and UCC Gaelic Football Club President, Dr Con Murphy.

Himself a five-time Fitzgibbon Cup (Sigerson’s hurling equivalent) winner from his time as a UCC student, John knows exactly what it means for a player to perform at this level.

On what makes Sigerson so special, he says: ‘It’s the high quality of football; it’s the level of inter-county football. The players would say that after winning an All-Ireland with their county or a championship with their club, the Sigerson is right up there among that.’

And the experience endures far beyond the final whistle he adds; watching players who have competed and won at Sigerson level investing those experiences back into their communities has been particularly satisfying for management down through the years.

‘We have 35 players on our team, many from small clubs around Munster,’ John explains.

‘It gives them a chance to play at this level, and play against great players who are inter-county footballers. They will go back to their clubs and into their professions and, because of their experience in UCC, they can give back to their communities – not only at work, as graduates, but socially and through games, and that’s really important.’

To say the future is bright for this title-winning team is an understatement; as John reminds us, ‘It’s the old saying – “if you can cut it at Sigerson level, you can cut it at any level.”’

Visit the dedicated UCC Sport website for further information.

Photography: supplied by UCC Sport

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