University College Dublin (UCD) began their preparations for the upcoming SSE Airtricity First Division 2021 season with a 2-1 friendly against newly promoted Premier Division side Longford Town at the UCD Bowl.

The last time the two teams met, Longford came out strongest in a 3-2 goalfest in the 2020 First Division playoffs. De Town went on to beat the Premier Division’s nineth place Shelbourne to clinch promotion. Additionally, this tie offered the interesting dynamic of two brothers facing each other. Sam Verdon (Longford) and his younger brother Adam (UCD) both start on the bench for their respective teams.

A good preseason will be vital for Andy Myler’s side to hit the ground running this year when they take on Athlone Town in the opening game of the season on March 26th in order to give the Students the best chance of going that step closer and securing promotion. These friendlies will give Myler a chance to blood in the quartet of new signings announced on Saturday. Sean Brennan and Donal Higgins started the game with Sam Todd and Adam Lennon on the bench. UCD fans will be keeping a close eye on the highly-rated, ex-Southampton and Ireland underage international Brennan throughout the season, who is fresh from a successful loan spell with Shamrock Rovers II.

UCD vs Athlone Dribble
UCD dribbling against Athlone Town on Monday 17 August. Photo: Stephen Kisbey-Green

The game began in a cagey manner with both sides cancelling each other out. The first chance of the match came in the 13th minute when Longford’s striker Aaron Dobbs nearly broke the deadlock, after he fashioned a shot from Karl Chambers’s pull back. Carl Williams made an excellent stop with his feet to deny De Town the opener.

UCD were committed to playing out from the back and progressing the ball through midfield. Brennan, who had a loan spell with Longford in 2019, was trying to dictate the game from deep linking up well with Eoin Farrell and Evan Weir in possession. De Town played more direct and this approach nearly bared fruit when goalkeeper Lee Stacey’s long kick bounced awkwardly in front of the UCD defence giving Aaron McCabe a sight at goal, however the forward failed to beat Williams.

The Students failed to create any clear-cut chances in the first half despite having a significant amount of possession. Aodh Dervin excelled in holding midfield for De Town, putting a stop to the majority of the home team attacks. Daire Doyle would have gone into half time as the happier of the two managers.

The second half saw twenty-two new players take to the field as both managers wanted to give all of their squad a run out.  Longford began the half strongly with Sam Verdon and Conor Davis finding space in the Students half to cause problems with new signing Paddy Kirk adding composure to their defence while also offering a threat going forward. However, it was UCD’s Liam Kerrigan who came closest to scoring in the opening ten minutes of the half when he cut in from the right wing and shot with his left, a vital deflection sent it just wide of the post.

It was Longford who would draw first blood just after the hour mark when a mix up between the UCD defence and Lorcan Healy left Rob Manley, outside the box, with an open net to finish into. The Student’s new midfield were more than comfortable distributing the ball, in particular the cultured left foots of Paul Doyle and Adam Verdon. The latter found himself being offered wise words of advice from his older brother, Sam, after an altercation with the referee. The Students equalised with fifteen minutes remaining through captain Doyle who kept his cool in a crowded box to slot home after a penetrating pass from Evan Farrell.

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UCD grew in confidence after the goal and sealed the victory in the dying embers after an exhilarating counter-attack of one touch passes which saw a deft touch from Lennon set his strike partner, Kerrigan, in behind who finished the move on the second time of asking after the initial shot was saved by Luke Dennison.

UCD happy with good start to the preseason

The Students were caught out playing out from the back near their own goal on a few occasions in the first half but to their credit they did not resort to long balls. Myler won’t be changing style and sees mistakes as a natural part of preseason friendlies. “I don’t have any hassle with a couple of errors playing out from the back. It’s what we want to do and if we make the errors here, you hope they don’t fall into the season,” Myler said after the match.

One of the errors gave Dobbs his second chance of the half ten minutes before the break but once again Williams ensured the tie remained 0-0. His performance did not go unnoticed by the manager. “We’ve got two really good ‘keepers in the club with Lorcan and Carl, they push each other really hard. Clean sheets are something that we’re working on so I was really pleased to get one in the first half,” Myler said.

Myler was encouraged by the class of the new signing’s assist. “They all have real quality, the four boys that have come in, you saw it with that last goal there. Great ball through (by Lennon) and a good finish from Liamo (Kerrigan)”.

UCD will now face Bohemians, who finished second place in the top flight last season, next week. The Students will try to build on Sunday’s game to ensure they are ready for the promotion push, which starts at the end of March.

Callum Buchan – Sports Writer