Despite a strong start, UCD AFC eventually succumbed to a 3-0 defeat to reigning champions Shamrock Rovers on the opening day of the 2022 SSE Airtricity League Premier Division season.

If the Tallaght side were expecting an easy game against the newly promoted UCD side, that proved not to be the case early on. Despite controlling possession in the early stages, Rovers found it difficult to break through the regimented UCD defence.

Just moments after former UCD winger Neil Farrugia smashed a glorious chance into the side netting, UCD danger man, Liam Kerrigan was put through on goal and couldn’t make the most of the opportunity. Just minutes later, Kerrigan was once again played in behind the Rovers defence only to be denied again by the experienced Alan Mannus.

Eventually, after the half-hour mark Rovers finally threatened the UCD goal and in the 39th minute, the home side took the lead. A Jack Byrne corner perfectly found the head of defender Sean Hoare at the near-post.

The quality of Jack Byrne’s delivery soon proved once again the unlocking of the UCD defence on the stroke of half-time. The recently resigned Irish international whipped in a beautiful ball to danger man Danny Mandroiu who doubled Rovers’ lead heading into the break, a harsh scoreline that didn’t do justice to the hard-working display by the students.

The quality and confidence of the reigning champions were on display after the interval. Rory Gaffney and Mandroiu both had efforts saved by Lorcan Healy in the UCD goal. However, on the 82nd-minute mark, Rovers finally sealed the win courtesy of a drilled finish from substitute Graham Burke.

Despite the defeat, the young UCD side had plenty of positives to take from the game. Despite a starting lineup filled with young players, including 17 and 18-year-old debutants defender Eric Yoro and midfielder Dylan Duffy respectively, the students showed lengthy periods throughout the game in which they were more than a match for a very strong Rovers side.

Ultimately, the fight for survival in the Premier Division will not be decided in Tallaght Stadium for this young UCD side. More competitive fixtures lie ahead including their next fixture against Donegal side Finn Harps at the Belfield Bowl on the 25th of February in which UCD will look to pick up their first points of the season.

Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Sean Hoare, Roberto Lopes, Lee Grace; Andy Lyons, Dylan Watts (Richie Towell 69), Gary O’Neill, Neil Farrugia (Barry Cotter 37); Jack Byrne (Graham Burke 74), Danny Mandroiu (Aaron Greene 69); Rory Gaffney (Aidoo Emakhu 74).

UCD: Lorcan Healy; Michael Gallagher (Harry McEvoy 45), Eric Yoro, Sam Todd, Evan Osam (Danny Norris at half-time); Jack Keaney; Liam Kerrigan, Sean Brennan, Evan Caffrey (Lennon Gill 76), Dylan Duffy (Mark Dignam 76); Collie Whelan (Adam Lennon 82).

Referee: John McLoughlin.

Conor Paterson – Co-Editor