Kilkenny man Owen McGrath was in Croke Park recently as the Waterford Institute of Technology representative ahead of the forthcoming Fitzgibbon and Sigerson Cups. The 3rd level competitions have gathered something of a cult following in recent years, with bands of students rallying around to support their fellow comrades, coupled with increased media and public interest, and of course, free flowing games of exceptional quality and entertainment value.
The competition has been dominated by Limerick institutions of late – indeed, Mary Immaculate College and the University of Limerick are going for fifth title in a row between them. WIT have tradition – they exchanged the famous cup back and forth with the Limerick Institute of Technology between 2002 and 2008, but the intervening years have proved barren for the southeastern representatives. This years squad pack a more powerful punch than last year, according to McGrath, and they will hope to make strides, having avoided the “group of death”, comprised of NUIG, UL, UCC and UCD.
“It’s a stronger team this year, I would say. We’ve had some very strong freshers’ teams the last few years, so we’d be hoping this is the culmination of that.”
“We’re also hosting the finals weekend this year, which is a big thing for us, so we definitely want to be involved for the latter stages.”
The college’s squad has traditionally been built on a solid foundation of players hailing from Cork, Waterford and Kilkenny, and this year is no exception. What ironically may work to their advantage is that most of their top level players are members of inter-county panels, without being first team players. In theory, this would be a weakness, but at colleges’ level, having a consistent squad that can train together and are familiar with each other is often a luxury rather than a given.
“We’d have a lot of lads on the fringes of county panels – Cork and Waterford especially. We’ve no super-star, kind of, household names, just a good honest bunch of lads, so we’d be hopeful that would work to our advantage.
We’ve a new management team in place – we’ve Fintan O’Connor in and Alan Roche in as well, Fintan was involved when we got to the Fitzgibbon final four years ago, so we’re delighted to have him on board now. There’s good camaraderie within the panel.”
Such was the depth of inter-county talent on UL’s winning side last year, it is difficult to know how a largely club-player based side like Waterford will fair in this increasingly-ruthless championship. One thing is for sure, this title is on the bucket list of any college-going hurler worth his salt, and if they fall short, it won’t be for want of preparation.
“It’s massive, yeah. It’s a huge one to have, this will probably be my last crack at it, so we’ll give it a right go. It’s something I’ve been after for three years at this stage. It’s a big one to get, and one of the most difficult to get your hands on.”
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