Ward and Murphy shine as UCD secure historic double

After seeing their male equivalents lift the Sigerson Cup, the O’Connor Cup team headed to Tralee for a fairytale finals weekend. David Kent reports.[br]The fairytale narrative doesn’t usually exist in sport. More often than not it’s the case of “so close and yet so far”, one of a cruel twist at the end that denies the romanticism. UCD already had its plot written. The men’s team had lifted the Sigerson Cup the week before, paying tribute to Dave Billings in doing so. The Ladies were tasked with reaching deep to achieve the female equivalent – the O’Connor Cup. After an opening round defeat to back to back champions UL, Ciara Murphy led her side to victory, first over NUIG and then a mauling of Trinity College to book UCD’s place at the O’Connor Cup weekend in Tralee over the 11th-14th March.After the defeat to UL in the league phase, UCD’s management team, led by Peter Clarke with selectors including Angie McNally and Pat Ring, would’ve been happy to avoid the Munster side in the semi-final. Instead they were drawn against University College Cork who had managed to navigate their way out of a tricky group containing DCU, Queen’s University Belfast and rookies NUI Maynooth.The old GAA cliché is that goals win games. Certainly, this was the case on the Friday evening, as UCD struck three of them to reach their first O’Connor Cup final since they last won the trophy a decade ago. After early points from Murphy and a brace from Roisin Curran, Niamh Collins won a penalty and Curran converted into the bottom corner. It was a lead UCD would never relinquish, shell shocking UCC with a second goal three minutes later. Galway inter-county star Megan Glynn hit the net after a mazy run. Glynn was working well with Nicola Ward and the combination had UCD 2-8 to 10 points ahead heading into the latter stages of the second half. It was Ward who calmed the nerves with a third goal.UL had come out of the other semi-final over DCU victorious thanks to an inspired performance from Niamh O’Dea, and it was all set up perfectly. The standard bearers for third level Ladies GAA in UL against the plucky underdogs UCD with Billings’ Army ringing in their ears. Two subplots whet the appetite even further. UCD were aiming to become only the fifth side to do the Sigerson/O’Connor double. Not only that, but the Ward twins would now come face to face on opposing sides. Nicola was shining for UCD while Louise had helped guide the champions through. John Mitchels Park was the venue on a dull Saturday afternoon. Conditions were about as close to perfect as you could get for March football.A scrappy opening saw wides aplenty. Kate O’Sullivan had UCD ahead, albeit briefly, as O’Dea levelled within five minutes. Nerves were clearly a factor for both sides as balls were dropped short and sent wide of the posts by Roisin Leonard and Clodagh McManamon. O’Dea was unlucky to hit the bar for UL after a fine individual effort. UCD sub Emma Guckian and Leonard traded points before the half time whistle with the sides level at 0-2 apiece.The second half started in spectacular fashion with Nicola Ward raising a green flag. Receiving the ball around 30 yards from goal, Ward carried it to the edge of the D before shooting. The spin of the ball left UL keeper Lisa Crowley flailing helplessly as it looped past her and into the top corner. Another brace of points from Guckian (including an impressive effort struck over her own shoulder) and Curran put UCD into the driving seat with a six point lead. Leonard was UL’s main point of attack, with the ball landing in her hands more often than not. The Corofin native pulled a point back but it was cancelled out first by a free from Curran and then by Rebelette Elaine Scally. The gap was six once more but just as UCD were looking comfortable, UL found their range. Referee Seamus Mulvihill penalised the UCD rearguard, and Leonard put on her shooting boots with four points in the next seven minutes as the clock ticked towards 60. It was real backs to the wall stuff from UCD, with even the half-forwards O’Sullivan and Collins tracking back to desperately defend Orla McDonald’s goal. Another Leonard free brought the deficit to within a goal. O’Dea knocked over another point as the game entered three minutes of injury time. Leonard put over another free to leave the minimum between UCD and UL, with all of the momentum. There was time for one more attack. UL full forward Ailish Considine came out to the half forward line to collect the ball before playing a one-two with McManamon. Under pressure from Martha Byrne, it was the captain Murphy who forced the Clare star to relinquish possession on the 21 yard line. UCD won the ball back and referee Mulvihill blew for full time seconds later. UCD had the historic double in the most dramatic of circumstances. For UL there was to be no three in a row, despite taking the Lynch Cup earlier in the day.Speaking to the University Observer after the opening round defeat to UL, Murphy emphasised that the determination was with the girls to get to the O’Connor Cup weekend. It was evident in both the semi and the final that the will to win was ingrained in the side.Some might suggest that it was the legacy left by Dave Billings that ensured that Jack McCaffrey would take the men to the Sigerson. There is no doubt now though, that Billings had an influence over the weekend in Tralee. Now both of the major third level college football trophies reside in Belfield. A fairytale ending for a man so beloved by UCD.