On Friday the 21st of October Drogheda United travelled to compete in a fixture that held virtually no importance to them as they sat safely above the relegation places. However, for the college, a crucial ninety minutes awaited as the survival battle with Finn Harps was once again the theme of the night.
Despite the little impact this game would have on United’s season, a strong following travelled to South Dublin in support of the Louth men. The heavens had been opened for the matchup as rain crashed down on the roof of the UCD Bowl, forcing a loud and hostile atmosphere under the sheltered stand.
The visitors started out red hot as within four minutes, via some beautiful interplay with Chris Lyons, Darragh Nugent smashed the ball inside the nearby post giving Drogheda an early lead away from home. United applied intense off-ball pressure following the goal but UCD quickly found their feet in what was a blistering first third of the game.
Just as the fixture seemed to have settled with both sides establishing long periods of possession, Jack Keaney got on the end of a looping Evan Caffrey free kick at the 40 minute mark to even the score in front of a delighted home crowd. The young UCD fans, who had been the life of the audience all game, broke into chants of “we are staying up” after Keaney’s equaliser.
The crowd was aware of the current relegation situation as Finn Harps were simultaneously losing to Bohemians, meaning UCD momentarily sat above Harps in the table. The game entered the break all tied up at 1-1 with UCD having plenty to smile about, unlike the frustrated Drogheda.
Despite expectations of a frantic start to the second half due to the exciting end of the first, both teams displayed a cautious approach upon leaving the changing rooms. 15 minutes into the 2nd period the home team seemed to find a rhythm, in particular, Sean Brennan’s positive forward play caused havoc amongst the Drogheda defence as UCD pressed on for a second goal. The college’s efforts would be rewarded at the 67 minute mark as Dara Keane gave Colin McCabe no chance with a brilliantly guided left-footed shot, nestling in the top corner of the away team’s net.
UCD supporters were on a high as the scoreline read 2-1 in their favour following Keane’s wonder strike. However not long after their jubilation at the second goal, news spread around the park that Finn Harps had taken the lead against Bohemians, this of course leaving UCD at the bottom of the table as it stood.
The last 20 minutes of the fixture contained few major moments with the students doing an effective job of seeing the game out and securing a much needed three points as it finished UCD 2-1 Drogheda.
As the final whistle sounded and the crowd dispersed, the game left a bitter-sweet taste in Belfield supporters’ mouths as it seemed no progress would be made in the league table on the night despite the impressive win. However, just minutes after the match concluded, an announcement filled an empty UCD Bowl stating that Bohemians had equalised in additional time, meaning UCD would leap ahead of Harps in the table. Few fans remained in the park at this point, but those who had yet to leave their seats were elated, including myself of course.
Speaking with the College Tribune post-match, captain Jack Keaney described the team’s mindset after the win and referred to their upcoming fixtures as the main focus. Keaney said that it was a “massive win but we’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves, we know we have three cup finals to look forward to, but it doesn’t matter if we don’t back it up on Monday.”
The Belfield boys did just that, as they managed a draw away from home to Shelbourne, putting another point between themselves and Finn Harps. Although Keaney admitted “it’s always nice to score,” he maintained that the team’s win was paramount. With two games left in the season, the lads have given themselves a lenient chance of survival, all eyes remain on Finn Park for Friday night.
Dara Smith-Naughton – Sports Editor