GOALS at the beginning of each half set University of Limerick up for a fourth consecutive Ashbourne Cup and fifth in six seasons at the wonderful Mallow GAA Complex.
It was a bitter pill for University College Cork to swallow, as they fell to a third Final defeat in a row and whose wait for a 31st title will now extend to at least 17 years.
They battled hard throughout but were playing catch up from the moment they conceded a goal in the second minute, Rebecca Delee getting the final touch on a Beth Carton delivery.
That was the margin at the interval, and when Niamh Hanniffy hand-passed to the net seven minutes after the resumption, after UCC goalkeeper Aoife Walsh had opted to bat Carton’s dropping ball from a free rather than catch it, only one result was likely.
Galway attacker Hanniffy, whose muscle and direct running proved a handful for the UCC defence throughout, was rewarded for a splendid performance with her second goal in the fourth minute of injury time that sealed the verdict, albeit by a flattering margin.
UCC qualified by virtue of a hard-fought, come-from-behind victory over the League champions WIT. In contrast, UL had a far more comfortable win over DCU and certainly it seemed early on as if the Cork contingent were feeling their exertions early on.
The Shannonsiders got off to the perfect start with that Delee goal and Carton, who would be named Player of the Match, followed up quickly with a point from a free.
Niamh McCarthy got the skull and crossbones off the mark in the fifth minute but after Caoimhe Lyons and UCC captain, Chloe Sigerson (free) exchanged scores, UL registered three points in succession.
Sarah Fryday notched up a neat score off her left and then Waterford All-Star Carton added to her tally with a couple of more frees and it was a six-point game with only 12 minutes elapsed.
But UCC showed that character that got them over the line 24 hours earlier, to get within two. Sigerson, a Player of the Year nominee after her fabulous performances as Cork retained their All-Ireland Championship, led from the front, while fellow Rebel stars, Libby Coppinger and Hannah Looney were also prominent.
Sigerson (45), Hayley Ryan (free), Sigerson again (free) and a fantastic score over the shoulder from Looney made it a game and it took a couple of important interceptions by Mary Ryan to deny UCC at least one other score.
Walsh made a brilliant save from point-blank range to deny Lyons, after the Limerick forward had been put through by Hanniffy but Carton slotted the resultant 45 for UL’s first score in 20 minutes to make it 1-6 to 0-6 at half time.
Mary Ryan made another excellent intervention at the start of the second half but Hayley Ryan pointed a free soon after and it was a two-point game once more.
Hanniffy’s first goal took the wind out of UCC’s sails though and they managed only one more point with 13 minutes left, from a Sigerson free.
Instead, it was UL who found another gear, substitute Grace O’Brien hitting the target brilliantly form a tight angle before Hanniffy cleverly found Delee in space to put six points between them.
Hanniffy provided the coup de grace with the last action of the weekend and the celebrations were under way.
SCORERS FOR UL: N Hanniffy 2-0; B Carton 0-4(3fs, 1 45); R Delee 1-1; C Lyons, S Fryday, G O’Brien 0-1 each.
SCORERS FOR UCC: C Sigerson 0-4(3fs, 1 45); H Ryan 0-2 (fs), N McCarthy, H Looney 0-1 each.
UL: R Breen (Kilkenny), C Grogan (Clare), M Ryan (Tipperary), L Loughnane (Tipperary), R Howard (Tipperary), C Hehir (Clare), A Keane (Clare), C Murphy (Galway), A Keefe (Clare), S Fryday (Tipperary), B Carton (Waterford), R Delee (Limerick), M Burke (Galway), N Hannify (Galway), C Lyons (Limerick). Sub: G O’Brien (Tipperary) for Burke 40.
UCC: A Walsh (Kilkenny), R Phelan (Kilkenny), L O’Sullivan (Cork), C Daly (Cork), A Landers (Waterford), L Callanan (Cork), M Lynch (Cork), C Sigerson (Cork), F Neville (Cork), L Coppinger (Cork), H Looney (Cork), K O’Keeffe (Cork), H Ryan (Cork), N McCarthy (Cork), C McCarthy (Cork). Sub: K McCarthy for O’Keeffe 43.
REFEREE: L Dempsey (Kilkenny).