After last week’s disappointing 2-1 defeat to Shamrock Rovers, Martin Russell’s men went out seeking a win against eighth placed Shelbourne, in what was to be UCD’s final game of the 2012 Airtricity League season. UCD and Shelbourne had met twice this season before Friday night’s clash, with both sides earning away victories over the other.
Graham Rusk and Cillian Morrison both returned to full training during the week and were available for selection, while David O’Connor and John Kelly were still not fit enough to join the action. The points were shared between the two teams, as the game finished in a 1-1 draw under the lights on a blistering cold night in the Belfield Bowl.
With UCD guaranteed a ninth place finish, one could suggest that very little was to play for. Shelbourne, on the other hand, had the possibility of garnering a top-five finish and seemed to dominate for the entirety of the match, however UCD held on for a draw in what was an eventful encounter.
The match began as Shelbourne immediately showed their intent by hoisting up a long ball up to their strikers, but it was of little consequence. An early chance fell to former UCD striker Conan Byrne in the first minute, but his shot went narrowly wide to UCD goalkeeper Ger Barron’s delight.
The encouraging start from Shelbourne proved too much for the Students as they conceded an early David Cassidy goal in the second minute to make it 0-1. Fine play from Kevin Dawson down the right-hand side provided Cassidy with the ball on a plate, and he was happy to oblige with the finish.
UCD struggled early on to get their passing going, hindering their play in defense as well as in attack. A through-ball from Andy Boyle to Paddy Kavanagh turned out to be another close call for UCD as the pressure mounted on the Students. UCD gradually began to enforce themselves on the game, as Shelbourne began to feel some of the pressure.
Glenn Croning and Kevin Dawson controlled the middle of the park, setting the foundations for what would be a frustrating day for the visitors. Byrne was once again played through on goal, but Kavanagh made a last ditch tackle to keep the deficit at one goal.
UCD began to find their feet in the game, as the passing began to flow far more fluently. David McMillian put pressure on the Shelbourne defence and seemed to be causing them some trouble. Both sides found it difficult in the final third of the pitch in the opening minutes, but UCD turned the game on its head as they scored against the run of play in the 21st minute.
UCD winger Dean Clarke drew a foul out on the right and Benson’s in-swinging ball proved too hot to handle for Bennion as he tipped over. The resulting corner from Mulhall saw Hugh Douglas heading it home to make it 1-1.
Lorcan Fitzgerald of Shelbourne injured himself badly in a reckless challenge on Douglas and he received a yellow card for his trouble as he was stretchered off before being replaced by Barry Clancy. This seemed to be the excuse the game needed to liven up, as Gary Burke sent a decent volley over the bar in the 32nd minute and soon after released McMillan who came close to scoring as halftime approached.
Philip Hughes tested Barron on the stroke of halftime, as his low shot was saved by the UCD goalkeeper. The two teams went in level at the half, a fair result considering the industry and hard work of the Students and the stellar performance of goalkeeper Ger Barron. As the second half kicked off, Kavanagh made way for Mark Langtry in the hopes that he could establish a UCD foothold on the game.
Shelbourne began the second half as they did the first; with Conan Byrne forcing a tremendous save out of Barron in the 47th minute, as UCD struggled to come to grips with their passing. The hero of the first half nearly became the villain, as an attempted clearance by Douglas forced a save out of his teammate Barron, who was constantly maintaining the 1-1 draw for UCD with strong performance.
In the 57th minute, Conan Byrne made a darting run in behind the UCD defense, but his shot went just right of Ger Barron’s post. Mulhall’s work down the wing kept the game alive for the Students for much of the second half, as he cut in from the left to smash over a decent strike on the 60th minute mark.
Shelbourne had the lion’s share of possession approaching the end of the match and almost made their superiority count after another fine opportunity for Byrne was thwarted by the impressive Barron. As the end of the game drew closer, it felt as if a moment of genius was required for either side to get a win.
In the final minute of the match, Douglas was forced to clear a Kavanagh effort off the line to ensure UCD ended their season with draw. Shelbourne were punished for their inability to convert, and finished the season in eighth place, missing out on a Setanta Cup spot.
UCD finished the season four points behind Shelbourne in ninth place. The Students went in to this game knowing that they had already ensured they will once again play Premier Division football next year.
UCD: Barron; Douglas, Leahy, Kavanagh (Langtry, 46), Nangle; Clarke, O’Conor, Burke (McCabe, 64), Mulhall; Benson; McMillan (Lyons, 75).
Shelbourne: Bennion; Hurley (Gorman, 90), Boyle, Paisley, Fitzgerald (Clancy, 31); Byrne, Cronin, Dawson, Kavanagh; Cassidy; Hughes.
Referee: N Doyle.
Man of the Match: Ger Barron (UCD)
By Aaron Kennedy