On 4th November UCD AFC were beaten 2-0 at home to the recently crowned League of Ireland champions, Shamrock Rovers.
In what was the students’ last home game of the season, they faced the champions in a packed out UCD Bowl and were looking to continue their impressive run of form ahead of Friday’s crucial match. The match itself was much tighter than the score-line would suggest, as UCD produced a solid performance against the league leaders, who proved yet again that they are champions for a reason.
With nothing officially at stake, both teams made a number of changes to their regular starting XI. UCD head coach, Andy Myler, opted to bench the likes of Jack Keaney and Mark Dignam ahead of Friday’s clash with Waterford.
Shamrock Rovers came flying out of the blocks on Sunday night and put UCD under serious pressure in the opening minutes, denying the students space and time on the ball. The champions were rewarded for their early pressure during a 5 minute, close-range strike from Aaron Greene. Greene’s strike sailed past goalkeeper, Kian Moore, who could do nothing about the shot.
UCD were pinned back by Rovers in the opening 20 minutes, as they created a plethora of chances, however, the students were able to weather the storm and keep the score at 1-0.
As the half progressed, confidence grew amongst the students who began to attack more dangerously, getting themselves into threatening positions. A free kick at the 28 minute mark offered UCD its first real opportunity of the match after the pressure from Rovers as Evan Caffrey’s free kick forced The Hoops into conceding a corner.
The second half began with a quadruple substitution for UCD, as club captain, Jack Keaney, goalkeeper, Lorcan Healy, forward, Harry O’Connor and defender, Michael Gallagher, all took to the pitch for the remaining 45 minutes.
Jack Keaney insisted the substitutions were not injury-forced,speaking to the College Tribune he said:
“It was just for minutes in the legs. A lot of the boys came in for their first appearances tonight and I thought they did brilliantly. It was more a case of saving the legs and maybe a few niggles here and there, we’re just trying to manage bodies and looking to Friday we’ll hopefully hit the ground running.”
The substitutions really helped UCD’s attacking play as they were unlucky not to grab a goal in a much improved second half. The untested Rovers goalkeeper, Leon Pohls, was called into action several times during the second half, denying attempts from Tobi Jinad, Jack Keaney and Johnny Haist spectacularly.
UCD were reminded of Shamrock Rovers’ class with 10 minutes remaining as Simon Power scored a scrappy, deflected goal to secure the victory. The goal was disheartening for the students who had put the champions to the test in the second half, proving they’re no slouches.
The UCD players produced an excellent performance and will take confidence heading into Friday’s clash with Waterford.
Speaking on his side’s performance, Jack Keaney felt positive saying, “It was always going to be a tough match today, they’re champions for a reason. No matter what team they had out it was going to be tough, but I thought we did well. We could have kicked a few [goals] at times, but look, we’re all looking ahead to Friday.”
Next up for UCD is the challenge of Waterford FC on Friday night as they play in the relegation/promotion play-off final in a repeat of last year’s final.
All Roads now lead to Richmond Park.
Oisín Gaffey – Football Correspondent