DCU went into the Electric Ireland HE Sigerson Cup final as overwhelming favourites to beat an IT Carlow outfit appearing in the college’s first-ever final.
The Carlow men had to fight tooth and nail to qualify for Wednesday’s final, knocking out 2019 champions UCC before a last-minute goal in the semi-final saw them over the line against Letterkenny IT. DCU, meanwhile, hammered both Queens University Belfast and UCD en route to the decider.
However, the tournament hosts didn’t get it all their own way. The Glasnevin outfit were pushed to the pin of their collars by Garda College, who very nearly came away with a shock win in the opening round.
DCU manager Paddy Christie believes that game stood to his players in the run-up to Wednesday’s final.
“I suppose, winning tough against Garda. While we crawled over the finish line, it gave people a massive belief that we can do it in a tricky situation. Against UCD last year when we underperformed, we didn’t really know what to do. We missed some very easy chances in the first-half when we had them on the rack.
“We lost a lot of confidence, whereas this time around with the Garda game, we played poorly but Garda didn’t let us play. But somehow we found a way to survive and win by a point or two with very difficult football.
“And then the Queen’s game, it clicked straight away. I suppose from then on you felt it was within our grasp all the time.”
Despite scoring heavy wins in both the quarter-final and semi-final, it took DCU a while to get to grips with IT Carlow. They led by three at the break but the Carlow men hung in there and it wasn’t until the final 10 minutes that the Dublin college pulled away.
According to Christie what got his charges over the line was a mixture of the great football they displayed in the previous two games coupled with the character shown in that first-round game with Garda College.
“We had three goal chances in the first half. If we had converted one of them, we would have been in cruise control. But because we didn’t, you were always on edge. It was only in the last 10 minutes that we pulled away and could relax.
“The black card in the first half probably set us back a little bit as well. I felt we were the better team overall but that just put us back into our shell a bit and we had to retreat, concede kick-outs and things like that.
“Tonight was a mixture, a bit of football and a bit of character. You couldn’t but be delighted with them.”
DCU had stars all over the pitch including Dublin goalkeeper Evan Comerford who kicked three beautiful scores from placed balls. While David Garland top-scored for the new champions with 0-4.
However, Shane Carthy garnered much of the plaudits following yet another cracking display by the 28-year-old who came into the competition under the radar in 2020.
Christie hopes the Naomh Mearnóg club man’s performances can help propel him back into the Dublin senior set-up under Dessie Farrell, the man he won minor and U21 All-Ireland titles with.
“I’d imagine Shane Carthy is in a very strong position to get a good run. I don’t know what he’d have to do at this stage not to get a shot. He’s big and powerful and good in the air. He’s a lovely kick of the ball and in the new rules, you’re looking for a guy who can kick a ball 20 metres or longer crisply into a fella’s chest.
“That’s Shane’s game so I imagine he should get a good look in.”
Christie continued by singling out praise for another one of his star men who he feels deserves an inter-county call-up.
“Another fella who I think hasn’t been mentioned much but he’s been very good for us, is Thomas Edward Donohoe. He would be sort of an unknown and he’s not even on the Cavan panel.
“I was waiting to be told he wasn’t going to be available for training or he’s not going to be available for this. You’ve got fellas like that who should make a breakthrough. That’s what this competition is about, people like him who I imagine will be in a Cavan jersey in the next three months.
“This is an opportunity for him to put himself on the map. He might have been an unknown but he won’t be unknown now. That’s what’s lovely about the competition, it’s not 15 All-Stars, it’s fellas trying to getting to be All-Stars in the future.”
Much like Carty and Donohoe, DCU themselves came into the season under the radar. Against all the odds though, they are the 2020 Electric Ireland HE Sigerson Cup champions.
However, Christie isn’t prepared to rest on his laurels. While he admits the college is in good shape, he’s looking forward to the challenge of unearthing future talent.
“It’s nice. I don’t know what the betting was because I’m not a betting man but I suppose we were a good bit on the outside at the start and by the end, we were overwhelming favourites. We’re losing a few lads this year unless they decide to come back and do Masters so we’ll have to bring in a few new fellas.
“But the college is in a good place at the moment. There’s a lot of good freshers teams around the last couple of years so we’d hope to bring them through the system and then, you never know, we might get a couple of fellas coming back to do a bit more studying.
“The attitude and the overall culture in this squad is set up now. And you’d like to think that anyone who comes into this squad for next year will be sort of understanding of what is entailed in wearing the DCU jersey and the standards we expect.”
As for Wednesday night’s celebrations, teetotaller Christie admits he wasn’t going to be found in Copper Face Jacks with the squad. However, he was looking forward to spending some time with the players given that the college season, in many ways, is rushed to completion.
“I’m not sure, I don’t drink. It mightn’t be Copper Face Jacks for me but I’ll certainly spend a few hours with the lads. It’s the only time you get to talk to them because, to be honest, it’s a rushed job here. The season is over very quick and you’d like to mingle a bit more.
In typical Paddy Christie fashion though, he’s already got one eye on next year.
“But I’m a good bit older than them so won’t get the chance.
“It’s lovely to win tonight but we would have liked to have got a bit of silverware in the league. We lost the league semi-final this year and the league final last year to UCC by a point. For next year, if any of us are involved in the management, it’s certainly something for the college to aim for.
“The league and the championship here is over very quickly and it’d be lovely for players to have a league medal in their pocket as well.”