University College Dublin (UCD) were beaten 2-0 by St Patrick’s Athletic at the UCD Bowl in one of the clubs’ final friendly matches before the start of their respective league campaigns.

The Students have tested themselves against the Premier Division’s best in pre-season before the start of the 2021 SSE Airtricity First Division, meaning results have been a mixed-bag for Andy Myler’s fledglings. A win against newly promoted Longford Town was followed by losses to the top flight’s number one and two in Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians, respectively.

A 3-3 draw against Bray Wanderers midweek was the only stalemate of their friendlies. Pat’s are yet to falter in their preparations with three wins from three thus far, as Stephen O’Donnell’s side will hope to improve on last season’s sixth place finish in the Premier Division.

St Patrricks Athletics GK kick vs UCD
St Patrick’s Athletic goalkeeper Vitezslav Jaros looks to clear the ball from inside his box as Isaac Akinsete tries to block the kick. Photo: Stephen Kisbey-Green

There are numerous former UCD players in Saints’ squad including club captain Ian Bermingham, winger Jason McClelland and Robbie Benson the captain of the College in their Europa League qualification campaign in 2016. Also, the Students defender Evan Osam, who is currently nursing a knee injury, is the son of ex Pat’s midfielder Paul Osam who holds legendary status in Inchicore. This was much more than a friendly match with both clubs battling for the hearts and minds of those based south of the River Liffey in the debate to whether UCD alumni Brian O’Driscoll or Saints royalty Brian Kerr is the de facto king of South Dublin sport.

Pat’s started the better of the teams in the first half by dominating possession with Ireland under 21 international Jamie Lennon running the show in midfield. Both Myler and O’Donnell like their sides to play progressively by keeping the ball on the floor and playing through midfield.

Saints excelled at this in the first half and their relentless high-pressing forced the Students to uncharacteristically play long from the back for the best part of 25 minutes. As the half went on UCD grew in confidence and began to revert to their usual style with Sean Brennan continuing to get on the ball despite Saints’ press.

UCD AFC Corner Header
UCD AFC’s Sam Todd clears the ball out of his side’s box after a corner kick from St Patrick’s Athletic. Photo: Stephen Kisbey-Green

The first chance of the half fell to Ronan Coughlan for St Pat’s after a loose pass by UCD ‘keeper Carl Williams found the forward, but Williams recovered to do enough to force Coughlan to stumble in front of goal. Williams was called into action again as Jay McClelland’s free kick from the edge of the box stung the gloves of the ‘keeper. Due to Saints’ dominance, much of the Students’ attacking play was reduced to counter attacks; the closest they came to scoring was a long range strike from Eoin Farrell after good work by Evan Weir to win the ball high up.

Saints’ final delivery was letting them down in their attack which prevented them from creating many clear-cut chances and their frustration with this was beginning to show with barks of anger and encouragement from skipper and League of Ireland stalwart Ian Bermingham that could be heard from every corner of Belfield. On the stroke of halftime, Coughlan was denied again by Williams and Darragh Burns couldn’t keep the follow-up shot below the cross bar. The sides went into the break level after a goalless 45 minutes.

UCD began the second half with added impetus as Colm Whelan and Liam Kerrigan pressured the Pat’s defence from the front immediately. The Students’ imposed themselves on the game and played at a higher intensity which was difficult for Saints to deal with for the first ten minutes until the game eventually settled down and Pat’s regained control.

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Saints persisted on knocking on the College’s door and defender Paddy Barrett was unlucky not to score after a bullet header from McClelland’s corner. Jack Keaney, who was captain of the Students, starred at the back throughout the match fending off attack after attack by Pat’s.

Coughlan eventually got the goal he deserved just before the hour mark as he put away Burns’s cross from the right from six yards out.

After the goal, O’Donnell made a host of substitutions. With the introduction of experienced players such as Chris Forrester and John Mountney, Pat’s stepped it up another gear. UCD did not throw in the towel, however, and Myler’s players persisted on getting on the ball until the final whistle. Their best chance of the half came when Brennan won a free kick from 25 yards, Weir took the deadball and forced a good save from Vitezslav Jaros in the Saints net. Pat’s doubled their lead through substitute Mattie Smith who smashed the rebound from Coughlan’s shot with ten minutes left in the affair.

St Patricks on goal at UCD
Ronan Coghlan of St Patrick’s Athletic is swarmed by UCD defenders as he attempts to get past UCD’s Sam Todd to go get into a goal-scoring position. Photo: Stephen Kisbey-Green

Building for the season

Andy Myler was happy with how his players responded in the second half after a disappointing first half. “We weren’t happy with the first half. We were passive and really poor in possession of the ball,” Myler said. “The game was just passing us by. Football is a funny game, I was much happier in the second half even though we conceded two goals.”

The manager felt the team are shaping up well before the start of the season “A lot of pre-season is about your fitness and your shape, we’re quite comfortable with that at the moment”.

UCD Cross Header
UCD captain Jack Keaney defends a cross kick with a well-timed header against St Patrick’s Athletic. Photo: Stephen Kisbey-Green

Having these tough tests against the best of the Premier Division will stand to them in their First Division campaign. “We need to test ourselves in these games, that’s what friendlies are for,” Myler said.

The Students will take on Shamrock Rovers next week for the second time during the pre-season in their final friendly before playing Athlone Town on March 26th in the opening fixture of the 2021 SSE Airtricity First Division. The First Division includes Cork City and Shelbourne FC, two massive clubs with rich history, and the race for promotion will be as competitive as ever for Myler’s side.

Callum Buchan – Sports Writer