TWENTY-one winters after winning a Fitzgibbon Cup medal on the field with UL, Brian Lohan was delighted and relieved to lead his Alma Mater to the 2015 title after a replay win over Waterford IT last week in Cork. Amongst the Clare contingent who played key roles were Tony Kelly, David McInerney, Jack Browne, Cathal McInerney and Gearóid Ryan.
The double All-Ireland winning full-back and four-time All-Star felt the Fitzgibbon Cup helped him to develop as a player more than two decades ago and is now aiding his management career.
“I played in three Fitzgibbons before eventually winning a fourth one. It was a huge learning curve for me as a player. Even though I wasn’t saying it, I felt that having been involved in the management set-up for three years already, you’d want to be learning in the fourth year. Without saying too much about it, I felt that this year we had to do it,” the 2015 Fitzgibbon Cup-winning manager told The Clare Champion.
“It’s a brilliant feeling. It was a long campaign. We had seven matches and we were the only team to go unbeaten through the whole competition. It was difficult enough. We had to go away to Galway, away to UCC, LIT, UCD and then we finished with the final against WIT. It was great to come out on the right side of it,” he reflected.
The legendary full-back acknowledged that UL had a fierce battle to rescue a draw with Waterford IT in Limerick.
“We had worked very hard in the first-half and had built up a good lead. We were four up but between the 42nd and 50th minutes, we hit four wides, one after the other. In most matches you get a chance to put a team away and that was our chance to put them away. We weren’t able to do it, they got a bit of confidence from that and the next thing they were back in the game. They took over in the last 10 minutes and hit five points in-a-row without us being able to get on the scoreboard.
“We got a free in the last puck of the game and Tony (Kelly) put it over the bar for us. We’d have been very disappointed if we had lost it but we were lucky to get that free and lucky to get that point,” Lohan said.
However, he felt UL were ready for the replay 10 days later.
“We set up nicely for the replay. Our lads were very tuned in for that. They certainly felt that the Fitzgibbon was there for us. We had worked very hard all year and they didn’t want to leave it behind them down in Cork.”
Establishing momentum at third level can be difficult but once things pick up, Lohan likens a college’s set-up to that of a club.
“It is a bit like that. But it can be a little bit more difficult in UL because we’ve a lot of guys out on teaching practice and on work experience. This year, Jason Forde was on work experience and we had a couple of lads away on teaching practice. Most of the guys were on campus for February. In UL they have exams in December and then they don’t start back until the fourth week of January.
If we want them to train, they have to come back when there is no actual college on. But every college has logistical problems. Once we got into the competition and once we started winning, we got a great commitment from all of the lads, whether they were club or county players,” the Shannon man explained.
On a broader note, he pointed out that his players’ priority is to leave UL with an education and that a Fitzgibbon medal is a welcome bonus.
“They are really super quality players but super guys as well. The big thing in UL is that, academically, they have to meet the criteria and they have to pass their exams. Hurling is important to the lads but it’s second to how they’re doing academically. It’s great for them to win a Fitzgibbon but the most important thing for all those guys is that they make sure to get their degrees or masters,” Lohan maintained, adding that the Fitzgibbon management team at UL is reviewed annually.
By Peter O’Connell