University College Dublin AFC (UCD AFC) drew 0-0 with Bray Wanderers at the Bowl in the third week of fixtures in the new SSE Airtricity First Division. The free-scoring Students sat second in the table before kick off on Friday night.

Andy Myler will feel aggrieved that his side don’t have six points on the board after being denied a win on the opening night of the season by a last gasp goal from Athlone Town in a 2-2 draw. The College dusted themselves after the disappointment and followed it up with a 4-0 hammering of Cobh Ramblers away from home.

Bray went into the tie looking to pick up their first win of the campaign thus far as they were held to draws against the league’s new boys in Treaty United and Shelbourne. The Seagulls will still have high hopes for promotion this year, despite the underwhelming start, with the introduction of highly-rated players during the transfer window, including the ex-Chelsea wonderkid Conor Clifford has joined alongside Shamrock Rovers loanee Brandon Kavanagh and 2020 Leinster Senior League winning captain Darren Craven who signs from Malahide United.

Bray started the stronger of the two sides in the first half with UCD struggling to gain a foothold in the opening 20 minutes. Despite having the majority of the ball in this period, the Seagulls lacked composure in the final third to create any clear-cut chances. On seven minutes Bray’s Ryan Graydon fashioned the first half-chance of the tie when the winger cut in from the left flank to strike from 25 yards out, which went just wide of the post, after good possession play from Gary Cronin’s side.

The Students had their first of three penalty shouts waved away by referee Kevin O’Sullivan after Colm Whelan appealed to the officials for handball after a quarter of an hour. It was Whelan’s strike-partner Liam Kerrigan who looked the most likely to open the scoring for UCD as he continued to latch onto loose balls in the channels through his industry.

Bray Shot on UCD Students goal
UCD’s Carl Williams stops a shot from inside the UCD box, with the support of Micheal McHugh. Photo: Stephen Kisbey-Green

On 22 minutes the College had the ball in the back of the net through Whelan after a flick on from Paul Doyle, however the linesman had other ideas and flagged for offside, much to Whelan’s disbelief.

The sides began to get frustrated with the state of play as both defences persisted to cancel eachother. The frustration spilled over when Evan Weir kicked the ball at Stephen Kinsella after a foul had been given, resulting in some argy-bargy. Kinsella found himself in the referee’s book after a high tackle on UCD centre back Luke Boore not long after.

In spells, Brandon Kavanagh and Graydon linked up well for the Seagulls but when it came to the final pass they came up short time after time. To the Students’ credit their back three was solid throughout the first half as they soaked up Bray’s pressure with skipper Jack Keaney not putting a foot wrong in the opening 45.

In contrast to the start of the game, UCD began the second half on the front foot as they pegged the Seagull’s back into their own half with Sean Brennan controlling the game from the middle of the park. Kerrigan resumed his form from before the interval as he won the ball deep in the Bray half and headed for the box from the right wing at pace. As the striker went down there were calls for a penalty, but the ref was uninterested.

The most ardent appeal for a spot kick came 10 minutes after the break as Evan Weir pinched the ball off Mark Byrne in the opposition box and appeared to be blatantly fouled. However, once again the referee was unmoved as he hesitantly pointed for a goal kick much to the dismay of the UCD bench.

Seagulls’ midfielder Luka Lovic hobbled off just before the hour mark and was replaced by Joe Doyle. This allowed Kavanagh and Darren Craven to both move deeper into midfield which appeared to benefit both players’ game. On 70 minutes, the quick-thinking Brian Maher in the Bray goal played Doyle through from his kick out. Lorcan Healy was fast off his line to snuff out the danger, but the rebound fell to Graydon who opted to play for the foul, rather than go for goal, with no joy as the referee waved play on.

As the game went on, it seemed that if Bray were to break the deadlock it would come from the right flank through a Graydon cross. The winger had the beaten of Boore down that side, but was let down by his delivery after beating his man on numerous occasions.

UCD vs Bray defence
Michael McHugh of UCD and Darragh Lynch of Bray Wanderers jostle for the ball deep inside the Students’ half. Photo: Stephen Kisbey-Green

Myler introduced fresh legs with 15 minutes remaining as opening night goalscorers Dara Keane and Mark Dignam replaced each other. In the closing phases of the game Kerrigan and Whelan had to live off scraps up front with the Students midfield struggling to provide the service for the strikeforce. The last roll of the dice for UCD was Adan Lennon coming on for tireless Kerrigan in the final minutes of the tie; however, the new signing failed to find that elusive goal.

It finished honours even at the Bowl with neither ‘keeper really tested by either team, but both defences will be happy with the clean sheet and performance. As expected it is tight at the top of the First Division with the Students picking up seven points from their opening three fixtures which leaves them third in the table as they face Cabinteely next week, who’s game against Galway Utd was postponed at the 11th hour due to COVID-19 protocols. Bray will have to wait a little while longer for their first win of the season.

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A word from the Students gaffer

“Happy enough with the point overall. If we’re not winning the game, at least we’re not going to lose the game. Last year we lost too many games against the top sides. Another night we would’ve got a peno and you get your win and move on,” Myler said after the game.

The manager was delighted with the defensive display. “I was delighted with the application from the boys. It’s our second clean sheet in a row, we know we have players who can nick a goal but must keep ourselves in the game by not conceding,”

Myler spoke highly of the opposition “Bray had the best defensive record in the league last year, and they’ll be right up there again this year. They’re a really good side.”

UCD: Lorcan Healy; Eoin Farrell , Luke Boore , Jack Keaney (c), Sam Todd , Evan Weir, Sean Brennan, Mark Dignam (‘75 D Keane) , Paul Doyle , Colm Whelan, Liam Kerrigan (‘87 A Lennon).

Bray Wanderers: Brian Maher; Andrew Quinn, Richie O’Farrell, Aaron Barry (c), Dylan Barnett; Brandon Kavanagh, Darren Craven, Mark Byrne, Luka Lovic (‘57 J Doyle), Ryan Graydon, Stephen Kinsella.

Callum Buchan – Sports Writer