University College Dublin AFC earned their first point of their 2022 SSE Airtricity League Premier Division campaign following a 0-0 draw with Finn Harps in the UCD Bowl on Friday in a match with goal-scoring opportunities for both teams. Following a defeat at the hands of reigning champions Shamrock Rovers last week, Andy Myler and his young, newly-promoted UCD side were determined to bounce back and showcase their ability to compete at this higher level.

The only changes to the squad that played against Rovers were the introduction of right-back John Ryan and left-back Daniel Norris who settled into the side very quickly. UCD enjoyed the majority of possession throughout the first half, with both the defence and midfield looking calm and composed on and off the ball. However, they were unable to break the deadlock due to solid defending from a determined Finn Harps side, captained by David Webster.

The Students’ best chance of the first half came from a Liam Kerrigan free-kick 12 minutes in; Ireland under 21 star whipped in an inviting cross that was just inches away from being met with a UCD head, allowing Harps goalkeeper Mark McGinley to breathe a sigh of relief as the ball went out for a goal kick.

Finn Harps enjoyed multiple chances in the first half but were met with confidence by the College’s goalkeeper Lorcan Healy, who continued his fine form from last season, to deny them on multiple occasions. Harps’ best chance of the half came in the 36th minute following a stray pass that put Barry McNamee in a one on one situation with the ‘keeper. Healy made himself big and was able to deny McNamee by diving quickly to his right from close range. Despite a strong start to the half, UCD were unable to test out the Harps keeper, lacking ruthlessness in the final third.  

UCD AFC goalkeeper Lorcan Healy in action against Finn Harps at the Bowl.

The second half saw a much more open game as Myler’s side emerged from half-time with real intensity, getting the ball quickly to dangermen Colm Whelan and Liam Kerrigan who drove at the opposition defence, either creating a chance or drawing fouls.

Despite this increase in intensity, Finn Harps found themselves very much still in the game, able to counter-attack and pose questions to the UCD defence with Barry McNamee and Croatian striker Filip Mihaljevic causing particular problems. 

52 minutes in, Harps had their best opportunity of the game; dangerman Mihaljevic managed to get his head to an inviting McNamee cross, forcing a brilliant reaction save by Lorcan Healy. Over the course of the game, Healy made a number of crucial saves that kept the match at 0-0.

In the 58th minute, the College registered their first shot on target as Sean Brennan played a perfectly weighted ball through to Evan Caffrey who attempted to dink the bouncing ball over Mark McGinley in the Harps goal but was denied by the crossbar. This chance sparked UCD into life as they continued to create chances but to no avail. In the 74th minute, Colm Whelan was denied a penalty despite appearing to have been clipped by Webster in the penalty area. Whelan was booked for simulation, much to the disapproval of the home crowd.

With just five minutes to go, Whelan, Kerrigan and Caffrey found themselves in a three versus two counter-attack situation when Harps midfielder Ryan Connolly cynically lunged at Whelan, halting the attack. The home crowd expressed anger when Connolly only received a yellow card for this clear denial of a goal-scoring opportunity. The Students were subsequently awarded a free kick in a dangerous position 30 yards out. Captain Jack Keaney lined up to take the free-kick in stoppage time, striking the ball cleanly, forcing a good save from Mark McGinley to give UCD their first corner of the game. The corner was well dealt with by the Harps defence which prompted the final whistle in what was a tense end to the match.

Despite a goalless draw, the newly promoted UCD side can take many positives from their performance against an experienced Harps team, especially with their creativity and confidence in the second half. Head coach Andy Myler will be pleased with the team’s ability to control possession and with the strong performance of goalkeeper Lorcan Healy.

The College are at home to last year’s rivals Shelbourne FC on Monday 28th February at 19:45 and will look to put in another good performance against a strong team where they will seek to add to their points tally in their 2022 campaign.

UCD: Lorcan Healy; John Ryan, Eric Yoro, Sam Todd, Daniel Norris; Jack Keaney, Sean Brennan, Dylan Duffy (Mark Dignam 58); Evan Caffrey, Liam Kerrigan, Colm Whelan.

Finn Harps: Mark McGinley; Regan Donelon (Conor Tourish 82), David Webster, Jose Carillo, Ethan Boyle; Barry McNamee, Ryan Connolly, Elie N’Zeyi, Bastien Hery (Nathan Logue 65); Yoyo Mahdy, Filip Mihaljevic (Eric McWoody 78).

Referee: David Dunne

Oisin Gaffey – Sports Reporter