HEC Finals getting underway

DUBLIN City University manager Mark Fitzpatrick is predicting the most open O’ Connor Cup weekend in years as his team goes in search of a League and Cup double.

DCU meet University of Limerick for the third time this season, when the pair lock horns in Friday’s semi-final at the Waterford IT sports campus in Carriganore (4.0).

DCU won the League final between the sides before Christmas but on home soil, DJ Collins’ UL gained revenge in the group stages of the O’Connor Cup.

Now, the scene is set for a winner-takes-all semi-final showdown, with Queen’s University Belfast or holders UCC to face the winners in Saturday’s final (1.0).

DCU claimed three successive O’Connor Cups 2009-2011 but a team very much in transition lost to University of Ulster, Jordanstown (UUJ) in last year’s semi-final.

Fitzpatrick, who is also the current Dublin senior team trainer, explained: “From the starting team down in Limerick (2011), we lost 12 for last year. So to get to the O’Connor Cup final weekend was a feat itself. We went to last year’s O’Connor Cup with seven freshers starting.”

DCU are better equipped to launch a renewed quest for silverware this weekend and Fitzpatrick’s team includes Monaghan pair Laura McEnaney and Ellen McCarron.

Mayo forward Carol Hegarty is another player to look out for and Dublin’s Aisling Barrett provides further experience.

Like DCU, UL have reached O’Connor Cup weekend for the fifth successive year.

They last won this competition in 2007 but Collins is without Galway’s Republic of Ireland soccer international Julie Ann Russell through injury.

Collins is also secretary of the Higher Education Committee and he admits that televised coverage of the O’Connor Cup final by TG4 is a major step forward for the ladies game.

He said: “It’s the first time that it’s been televised live and it’s the first time that a women’s college varsity final has been televised live on TV in Ireland. This brings us on a par with the Fitzgibbon and Sigerson Cups in terms of televised coverage.”

Clare forward Niamh O’Dea is sure to provide DCU’s defence with plenty of problems in Friday’s semi-final but UL can also call upon Galway forward Roisin Leonard, Kerry’s Lorraine Scanlon and Leitrim’s star attacker Áine Tighe.

Defending champions UCC will start as favourites to retain the O’Connor Cup, however.

Managed by Shane Ronayne and captained by Tipperary’s Samantha Lambert, UCC have massive talent at their disposal.

Ciara O’Sullivan (injured), Roisin O’Sullivan and Rosie O’Mahony were on last year’s team but are no longer available.

But Ronayne has the vast majority of last year’s winning team at his disposal, and Cork’s prolific forward Valerie Mulcahy is another huge addition.

Ronayne is monitoring the fitness of a number of key players, including Kerry pair Megan O’Connell and Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh, and Tipperary’s Kelley Hackett.

He explained: “Queen’s are very defensive and break very fast. They gave us a lot of difficulty when we played them in the first round. With five minutes to go, they were two points up but we got a goal and a couple of points to win it.”

UCC have three current Allstars in their ranks – Ní Mhuircheartaigh, Mulcahy and Kerry defender Cait Lynch.

And Ronayne acknowledged: “If it goes according to plan and our injuries clear up, we have a good chance.”

Last year’s O’Connor Cup hosts Queen’s are managed by current Armagh boss James Daly, who has Peter Canavan’s daughter Aine in the team.

Armagh pair Fionnuala McKenna and Sinead McCleary are also involved with Queen’s and the pair won All-Ireland intermediate medals with the Orchard County last year.

Queen’s are appearing in the last four for the first time since 2009 and in a neat symettry, the four competing teams this weekend were also the four League semi-finalists before Christmas, which indicates a steady line of form.

Queen’s lost to UCC in the group stages but only by a goal as Daly’s players showed that they will be no pushovers.

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