UCD AFC 1 (Molloy 18’)
Galway FC 2 (Barrett 88’, Manning 90’)
Monday, October 27th 2014, Belfield Bowl
With UCD’s status as an Airtricity Premier League team hanging in the balance for the last few weeks, and with a nervous feeling of uncertainty looming over the Belfield Bowl, their destiny was made very clear with last Friday’s win over Drogheda-beat Galway over two legs or they would be relegated. With such big stakes resting on this game, the tension was palpable in the build up to the match, and the nerves of the UCD fans weren’t helped with the suspension of Captain Robbie Benson, who was one of the stars in last Friday’s win. His omission was always going to make this task much harder than it was already going to be.
With both teams playing a naturally guarded first 10 minutes, chances were few and far between and it took until the 11th minute for the first attempt, coming for the away side. After Colm Crowe for UCD fouled Galway’s Jake Keegan, Galway had a free-kick from 35 yards out. After a lovely crossed free-kick from Ryan Connolly, Gary Shanahan rose higher than everyone else and with a yard of space and a free header, should have done better but instead, the ball sliced off his head and went wide of the right post.
Galway used this momentum to start to shift up a gear. Great interplay from Stephen Walsh and Ryan Manning set Ryan Connolly free down the left-hand side, but a good challenge from the reliant Mark Langtry at left-back for UCD gave Galway a corner. Having already stamped their aerial superiority from the last set piece, Galway’s Stephen Walsh was the first to the ball this time, but like Gary Shanahan’s attempt a few minutes earlier, Walsh couldn’t find the target and his header was skied over the bar. With 13 minutes gone, UCD were yet to make any real impact on the game.
It took until the quarter of an hour mark for UCD to start to impose themselves in the match and it took a fortuitous slip from the Galway defence to break the deadlock in favour of the home team. With seemingly no danger looming, Gary Burke for UCD was quickest to react after a slip from the Galway defence, and having picked up the ball, Burke slipped a pass to Timmy Molly on the edge of the box, who drove a low right-footed shot into the bottom corner to the delight of the home fans.
With Galway looking to hit back straight away, and trying to regain some of the momentum from earlier in the game, it took some superb goalkeeping from UCD’s Conor O’Donnell to deny the away side an equaliser. Having lost possession in the 21st minute, the home side had some defending to do and when a cross-field ball from Jason Molloy found Gary Shanahan 1 on 1 with O’Donnell, Shanahan was only lining up the shot when O’Donnell raced out to the edge of his box to block the shot, fantastic goalkeeping from the ever-improving keeper.
It took until the 24th minute for the first yellow card of the game, as College’s full-back Gareth Matthews was tackled by Galway’s Jason Molloy in a late collision after a Galway attack broke down, and the late tackle as Matthews was clearing the attack was enough to merit the game’s first booking in the eyes of referee James McKell. After midfielder Colm Crowe picked up a yellow for a tackle on Ryan Manning, UCD had their best chance since the goal a couple of minutes later. Good work from Chris Mulhall started the attack, and after a one-two with James Kavanagh down the right side, Mulhall played a low cross to Conor Cannon on the edge of the box. Cannon, similar to his goal on Friday, showed great balance to turn sharply and fire a left-footed strike towards the top corner and but for a great stop from goalkeeper Conor Gleeson for Galway, the home side would have been two up.
The last yellow card of first-half came in the 42nd minute and was a reverse of the first booking, as this time it was Matthews who picked up a yellow for a tackle on Galway’s Molloy as the winger was skipping away from the full-back. With only half-chances for Gary Burke for UCD and a corner for Galway parried away by Conor O’Donnell, the first-half ended leaving the home side manager Aaron O’Callaghan undoubtedly the happier of the two.
In a similar fashion to the first half, the second half took a long time to heat up and the near-1000 attendance were kept very quiet as scrappy play from both sides yielded few chances. It took until the hour mark for the first real chance of the half. After a break from UCD from a Galway corner, brilliant vision and an equally sublime ball from Conor Cannon picked out Chris Mulhall down the right side with a cross-field ball. Mulhall managed to pull-back a low cross for the incoming Gary Burke but Burke couldn’t control the cross and Galway cleared the danger.
UCD followed this chance up with two more attempts, both from a very impressive Conor Cannon. The first came as Cannon drifted along the 18-yard-box, but couldn’t complete the moved as his shot was scuffed wide and to the right in the 62nd minute. The next came from a free-kick which Cannon himself won but when a low cross came Cannon’s way, the striker mistimed the ball and couldn’t get his shot away in space.
With 15 minutes left of the game, Galway strung together 2 great opportunities but still couldn’t break through. The first came when a patient Galway build up nearly paid off as the ball fell to Ryan Manning on the left side of the 18-yard-box. Running down towards the by-line, Manning struck a left-footed drive goal-bound, but again, it was the quick reactions of Conor O’Donnell between the sticks to quash the chance as he raced out and closed off the angle and deflected the ball out for a corner. From the resulting Ryan Connolly corner, Stephen Walsh headed it goal-wards but O’Donnell parried it away with a great save. But for the heroics of the College goalkeeper, UCD would have lost their lead a long time ago.
With 8 minutes left, Galway continued to pile on the pressure. A Paddy Barrett pass split the home side’s defence and gifted an opportunity to Jake Keegan, but Keegan couldn’t compose himself and from just inside the 18-yard-box, blasted his shot over the bar. Another golden yet futile attempt for the away side, who were beginning to get frustrated.
As the clock winded down and only five minutes remained, good work from Gary Shanahan down the left side won a corner for Galway. From the corner, after a flick on from substitute Vinny Faherty, the ball fell to the feet off Paddy Barrett in space at the edge of the box, but the defender couldn’t keep his composure and thrashed at the shot, slicing it wide of the right post. Galway manager Tommy Dunne was getting understandably impatient as his team had somehow still not scored.
In the 88th minute, Galway had a long-throw deep inside the UCD half taken by Marc Ludden. Ludden’s throw was met by the head of Barrett in the box, and his header beat O’Donnell as the keeper tried to come out and make a block. Despite the best efforts of Ian Ryan to clear the header off the line, James McKell awarded the goal and the Galway fans went ecstatic.
With the goal finally coming after so many attempts, the away side sensed blood and hunted down an advantage to take back to Éamonn Deacy Park. With the Galway fans making all the noise, a corner from the Connacht side wasn’t cleared by College in the 90th minute. After a scramble in the box, the ball was picked up by Ryan Manning in a similar position to the attempt he had a few minutes earlier. However, this time, O’Donnell could do nothing to block the attempt, and a well-driven low shot by Manning into the bottom right corner put Galway in the lead in injury time. Galway’s late fight-back was nearly extended when a lapse in concentration from the UCD defence allowed Gary Shanahan to pick up the ball 1 on 1 with O’Donnell but just like in the first half, the Donegal keeper came out on top and blocked the shot with his legs, to keep UCD’s deficit at just one goal as the second leg, on Friday, in Galway looms.
With UCD’s survival looking very promising for so much of this game, it took a dramatic turnaround from Galway to give the Division 1 side the advantage heading back to Connacht for the second leg. With two goals in two minutes at the end of the game for Galway proving what can happen in such a short space of time in football, 90 minutes for UCD in the second leg will be plenty of time to try and mount a comeback, to keep their chance of playing Premier Division football next season alive.