UCD AFC secure play-off spot after dramatic draw in Galway

Barring absolute calamity, UCD had come into their final game of the regular season with a promotion play-off position all but guaranteed but hosts Galway United still had it all to play for. Cahal McAuley reports on the game.

UCD AFC made sure of their place in the Airtricity League of Ireland First Division play-offs, with Evan Weir grabbing a brace in a 2-2 draw after a frantic last ten minutes in their final league game of the season at Deacy Park in Galway.

Stephen Christopher put the tribesmen ahead just before half time, leaving the play-offs within their grasp, but two goals in the final ten minutes from Weir dashed any hopes they had of progressing. An injury-time consolation from Shane Duggan was not enough to save Galway United who will be playing first division football next season, while UCD advance to the play-offs with promotion still within reach.

UCD came into the game with their play-off spot all but secure already, needing a huge swing in goal difference for their position to come under any real threat. Galway required a win, and for Cabinteely to lose against Drogheda United to have any chance of advancing.

The game started with a high intensity as Luke Boore was booked and Yoyo Mahdy had a penalty claim waved away in the opening minutes. 

Galway threatened the UCD goal for the first time just after 10 minutes as veteran defender Mark Ludden forced Lorcan Healy to save with his feet before Paul Doyle made a last-ditch block to turn a goal-bound shot from Mickey Place around the post just seconds later as UCD struggled to clear the ball from a Galway corner.

The tempo of the game then slowed dramatically with UCD only registering their first real chance of the game a few minutes after the half-hour mark. Liam Kerrigan played in Colm Whelan who did well to avoid the tackles of the opposition defenders but could only fire straight at Kevin Horgan in the Galway goal.

The sides looked to be heading in at the break with the game scoreless, however, Shane Doherty managed to get behind the UCD defence after a through ball from Stephen Christopher, drawing a fine save from Lorcan Healy to his left-hand side.

UCD’s weakness in winning second balls was punished from the resulting corner as after a desperate goal-mouth scramble, Stephen Christopher was able to fire home on 43 minutes and send the tribesmen in a goal to the good at the interval.

Galway deserved their half-time lead being the slightly more threatening of the sides, with their defence almost completely nullifying the threat of UCD forwards Yoyo Mahdy and Colm Whelan.

As they had done in their previous fixture against Cabinteely, UCD reacted well to going a goal down and came out the more threatening of the teams at the beginning of the half with Kevin Horgan getting down well to save a shot from Liam Kerrigan from just outside the box.

Josh Collins also came close, seeing his looping header drop off the roof of the net from a Paul Doyle free-kick, but as was the case in the first half, the intensity of the game dropped off noticeably after the opening few minutes.

Neither goal was threatened until the final 15 minutes when UCD’s Paul Doyle had Kevin Horgan scrambling across his goal with a long-distance effort that bounced just wide.

The stage was set for Galway to complete the remarkable turn around of their season and reach the play-offs. Ten man Cabinteely were 2-0 down against Drogheda and the Tribesmen just needed to avoid conceding but Evan Weir had other ideas as he turned home a sweeping ball from Harry McEvoy at the back post the tie up the game after 81 minutes.

UCD looked to go for the jugular as Whelan and Mahdy linked up well for the first time in the game a couple of minutes later with Mahdy drawing a smart save from Horgan.

However, Horgan could do nothing to stop Evan Weir from grabbing his second goal of the night after he hit a stunning free-kick from 35 yards to break Galway United hearts in the 89th minute. 

Galway’s Shane Duggan responded with a long-distance effort of his own when his powerful shot went through the hands of Lorcan Healy deep into stoppage time but it was too little too late for the tribesmen as their season came to an agonising end with the 2-2 draw not being enough, while the students march on to the play-offs.

Galway United failed to create any meaningful chances before conceding in the second half and were undone by a couple of moments of pure class by UCD in a game where the poor weather conditions didn’t make for attractive, free-flowing football.

A draw was enough to secure a third-place finish for UCD while Galway end the season in sixth, just one point off Cabinteely in the final play-off spot. Drogheda United were crowned league champions after their win against Cabo while Bray Wanderers, UCD AFC, Longford Town, and Cabinteely all advance to the play-offs.