UCD 0-1 Galway United: A last day victory secured safety for Galway United at the expense of already relegated UCD, writes Fearghal Kerin.
Another home defeat consigned already-relegated UCD to Division 1 football, and ended nearly a decade of top-flight football at Belfield Park. A first half goal from John Fitzgerald was the final nail in the coffin, as UCD failed to impress in their last outing of the 2008 season.
Galway were worthy of the win, a victory that allowed them to secure their status in the top league for another season. Bringing as large and noisy support as Belfield has seen this season, they deserved to gain the three points, so vital after Finn Harps victory over Shamrock Rovers. The win consigns Harps and Cobh Ramblers to join the Students in next year’s Division 1.
The early going favoured the home side, however, with a strong wind blowing towards the Tribesmen’s goal. The lively Jay O’Shea saw an early shot saved by UCD’s Matt Gregg, while Shane Fitzgerald could have scored for the home side with Shane Fitzgerald dragging wide at the Clonskeagh end.
Brian Shortall saw his season end prematurely, after a collision with O’Shea, and this seemed to disjoint UCD’s steady start. Evan McMillan, so impressive last time out in the defeat to St Patrick’s Athletic, failed to make a similar impact on his introduction.
Minutes later, Pat McWalter could have given UCD what, at the time, would have been a deserved lead, but he lacked the necessary composure while blasting over despite finding space in the box. Final day nerves could have been to blame, as the normally calm McWalter had several options that he could have easily played in for the tap-in.
This profligacy was soon exploited by the westerners. UCD’s frailness at the set-piece was again exposed, Fitzgerald sweetly meeting an out-swinging corner, that with the help of the slightest deflections of Shane McNally, rustled Matt Gregg’s goal and gave Galway the breakthrough they so yearned.
From there it was all Galway. UCD managed to soak up the pressure until half time, but the visitors were again like men possessed in the early stages of the second half as they searched for the killer second goal that would have effectively ended the tie.
John Lester outmuscled Conor Kenna on the edge of the home side’s box, and blasted the ball across the area, but was unfortunate to find none of his teammates having taken the gamble that would have given them an easy finish.
Minutes later, Lester again tested UCD’s resolve, with a long distance free-kick that flew narrowly over. At this point, only a counter attack looked like baring fruit for the Students, but even at that, they couldn’t get any decent possession to convert into an attack.
Jay O’Shea had the games last chance, fashioning a chance deep on the right, but snatched at the chance, meaning a nervy last few minutes for Galway.
The final whistle was greeted with huge rejoicing from Galway, and a mingled relief at the end of a dour season with regret at opportunities passed from UCD.
Despite the defeat, the financial stability that Pete Mahon has maintained at the club will prove the springboard for the Students attempt at regaining their top flight status. Unlike other clubs, Cork City the prime example, who gambled their solvency in a search for on-the-field success, UCD remain in healthy financial nick.
Assuming they hold on to players of the undoubted Eircom League quality of Gregg, McWalter and Duggan, the Students will be amongst the favourites to make a speedy return to the top flight.
UCD: Gregg, McNally, Shorthall (McMillan 18), Mahon, Kenna, McFaul (King 83), Duggan (Meenan 64), S Fitzgerald, Finn, McWalter, Bermingham.
Galway United: Rogers, J Fitzgerald, Lester, J Keane (Russell 76), McCulloch, Connelly, A Keane, Foley (Davoren 65), O’Shea, Faherty, Murphy (Jorgensen 83)
Referee: T Connolly.