UCD AFC’s season ends with agonising extra-time defeat to Longford Town. Cahal McAuley reports on the game from the UCD Bowl.
UCD AFC’s promotion hopes were ended by a 3-2 defeat after a late fightback from Longford Town deep into extra-time in their Airtricity League First Division play-off semi-final at the UCD Bowl on Saturday afternoon.
Colm Whelan opened the scoring for UCD to send them in with the lead at half-time. The students looked to be heading for a 1-0 win, but Longford’s Joe Gorman sent the game to extra time with a header just before the 90 minutes were up.
UCD looked to have done enough to secure their place in the final when Yoyo Mahdy slammed the ball home with ten minutes to play but once again, Gorman brought Longford level. They then completed their comeback as Dean Byrne curled the ball home in stoppage time to see Longford through.
The game started evenly with neither side gaining control of midfield in the opening minutes. Longford threatened first with Karl Chambers hitting a first-time shot over the bar just after five minutes.
It was UCD who broke the deadlock, however, with Colm Whelan steering a header into the bottom corner after a fine delivery from a Paul Doyle free-kick on 17 minutes. Longford looked to bounce back quickly with former UCD player Rob Manley firing just over after a pinpoint pass from Aodh Devlin five minutes later.
Colm Whelan thought he’d grabbed his second and doubled UCD’s advantage ten minutes before half-time after he turned in another Paul Doyle free-kick, but the linesman’s flag went up for offside to the dismay of the students.
UCD were counting themselves lucky to go in ahead at the break after Karl Chambers missed a glaring opportunity on 45 minutes, blazing over the bar from just six yards out after getting a header across the box from Joe Gorman.
At the other end, Luke Boore had a shot cleared off the line by Sean Zambra after a corner in stoppage time, with the student’s claim that the ball had crossed the line falling on deaf ears from the officials and ensuring that their lead was only a single goal at the break of a closely contested first half.
Longford started the second half the more dangerous of the two teams, with Dylan Grimes drawing a save from Lorcan Healy and Aodh Dervin shooting just wide in the opening ten minutes of the half.
The pressure began to mount on the UCD defence as they were forced to make a number of fouls on the edge of the box giving Grimes ample opportunity to test Lorcan Healy. The UCD keeper was relieved to see the ball fly over the bar instead of in the net after a free-kick squirmed through his hands just before the hour mark.
UCD talisman Yoyo Mahdy looked to relieve the beleaguered UCD defence a couple of minutes later but couldn’t test Longford keeper, Lee Stacey, with his first meaningful contribution of the game.
Grimes had the UCD players hearts in their mouths as he hit another free-kick just wide of the post on 70 minutes with Healy rooted to the spot. The students looked to have the survived the Longford onslaught unscathed and began to come back into the game as full-time edged closer with Liam Kerrigan seeing an attempt fly just past the far post as the game entered the final ten minutes.
Mahdy came within inches of putting the game to bed with a curling shot after good work down the right flank by substitute Michael Gallagher but the game still hung in the balance. UCD looked to have absorbed the best Longford had to throw at them but they were undone by a set-piece in the 89th minute with Longford substitute Dean Byrne putting the ball onto the head of Joe Gorman from the corner who powered a header home, giving Healy no chance and sending the game to extra-time.
The students responded well to being pegged back with a deflected Paul Doyle shot going just wide of the post in the first few minutes of extra-time. Dara Keane missed chances either side of half-time and Liam Kerrigan came close after good link-up play with Mahdy.
With ten minutes of extra-time left, it was the league’s top scorer, Mahdy, who put UCD back into the driving seat with a rasping half-volley after Stacey could only parry Liam Kerrigan’s effort into the path of the UCD forward.
The play-off final was within touching distance for the students but once again Longford refused to be beaten, immediately going back on the front foot and winning a succession of corners with Mick O’Donnell forcing a fantastic reflex save from Healy to tip round the post.
Longford’s corners finally paid dividends with UCD unable to deal with the aerial threat of Joe Gorman as he netted another header to level the game for a second time with seven minutes still to play.
The winner looked destined to be decided by penalties but Longford’s Dean Byrne had other ideas. He curled a beautiful first-time effort past Healy from the edge of the box to bring UCD’s season to a devastating conclusion.
Longford have to be commended for their perseverance, twice coming from behind and scoring in the dying moments of both regular and extra-time, completing their remarkable comeback with a moment of pure class from Byrne.
Longford will now progress to the play-off final against Galway United who pulled off a shock win against Bray Wanderers in the other semi-final. UCD must resign themselves to playing first division football for another season.