UCD 2,Waterford Utd 3: A horror show in defence almost spoiled UCD’s victory parade against a plucky Waterford United side eager to ruin the party, watched by Shane Murphy
Waterford United spoiled what was meant to be a coronation in front of an adulant and expectant capacity crowd at the Belfield Bowl. Expecting an easy victory to complete a coronation worthy of champions, the home support instead witnessed a Jekyll and Hyde performance by the Students.
Both sides had little to play for – the Students already proclaimed champions, and Waterford denied a playoff berth last week – suggesting an open fixture full of potential. The visitors seemed to have read the script, forming an admirable guard of honour for the champions, before the hosts sprang into action, starting brightly only to be denied by a stern United rearguard.
The home side pressed for an opener, going close on several occasions before breaking the deadlock after 21 minutes. An incisive pass by midfield maestro and UCD captain Ronan Finn set up Ciarán Kilduff, whose neat touch on the edge of the box allowed him to ghost past the United defence and rifle a volley of clinical efficiency past the helpless Kevin Burns in goal.
As the half wore on, Waterford began to impose themselves and should have levelled the proceedings ten minutes later. A long ball from midfield caught the UCD offside trap exposed, enabling Paul Walsh to bear down on goal unmarked and unchecked. His tame shot, however, was easily saved by Gerard Bannon.
Finn continued to be imperious in midfield, once again setting up Kilduff with a penetrating pass, only for him to be outmuscled by Kearney in the United defence. College continued to press with Finn himself spurning a glorious opportunity in the 37th minute to double the champions’ lead; a great pass by Robbie Creevy across the goalface left Finn to miscue from six yards.
Waterford also continued to press, egged on by the vociferous away support eager for an equaliser. They very nearly got their reward in the 38th minute, as great work by John Kearney on the right wing left a teasing ball flashing across the UCD goalmouth before College scrambled it away.
By half time the Students were offering value for money, showing much of the emblematic flair of their successful title pursuit. However, whilst creative and incisive play may have been the hallmark of their season it seemed to have been left in the students’ dressing room. The first half was perhaps Jekyll; the second was almost categorically Hyde. In a brief three-minute period, United seized the initiative and put paid to any victory parade in front of their expectant crowd.
The three-minute madness began on 59, as United scored controversially. A cross swung in from the right wing looked to have been handled before being toe-poked by Willie John Kiely into the UCD net. The goal stood, much to bemusement of the UCD rearguard.
Less than a minute later United grabbed a second in equally bizarre circumstances. A long-range shot by Vinny Sullivan struck the post and rebounded off UCD goalkeeper Bannon, giving United a freakish lead.
United compounded Bannon’s misery three minutes later and killed off any chance of a winning end to the season for UCD. Slack defending in the students’ rearguard allowed Sullivan to slice open the defence and fire past a helpless Bannon, giving United a commanding 3-1 lead.
The Bowl was stunned into silence, barring the ever more vocal support of the colourful visiting contingent. The boisterous away section was mired in smoke as a result of a number of flares being released, causing confused parent and toddlers to relocate to more gentile surroundings.
Things only got worse for the Students, however, as right-back Evan McMillan heroically intervened to stem the tide and deny United a fourth, only to be injured in the process. Emboldened by their rapid-fire brace and a weakened UCD rearguard, with their tails up United continued to press until the final whistle. On 77 minutes a piledriver from United’s Alan Carey hit the underside of the crossbar; mere millimetres separating United from an elusive fourth.
The game would not see another goal until stoppage time when David McMillan belatedly pulled one back for the Students – his glancing header finishing off an inch-perfect cross from Chris Mulhall – to leave the final score at 3-2.
One could forgive the students their apathy; with the title already won, many seemed to have their minds on forthcoming home games against the likes of Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians. UCD – lacking the guile, invention and much of the creative flair that delivered the title – will ultimately care little about the defeat in the wider scheme of things; there are bigger fish to fry in the coming months.