A slow start killed DCU’s chances of retaining the Division One Fresher League title against UCD in Parnell Park last Wednesday.
Ross Munnelly’s men allowed their opponents to build up a seven point advantage by the 15th minute and, while two Conor McHugh goals helped DCU draw level in the second half, UCD ultimately claimed the victory.
There was a litany of high-calibre talent on display; all but two of DCU’s starters having played inter-county minor football and four of the UCD panel All-Ireland minor medal winners.
UCD asserted themselves early on, with corner-forward Niall Kelly scoring two points in the game’s opening 90 seconds. Thereafter, Kelly could have had a goal when sent through by Laois’ Paul Kingston, but instead opted to take his point.
However, the green flag was soon to follow for UCD when McCaffrey pierced through the DCU defence, before drilling a low shot past Ross McCarrick.
Ciaran Byrne provided a brief respite for DCU with a wonderful score from a distance, but points from Mannion, Luke Kelly and Shane McEntee meant that UCD had a 1-07 to 0-03 advantage by the end of the first quarter. Although UCD failed to score for the remainder of the half, the tie was already looking like a formality.
As the half wore on, DCU started to dominate proceedings, thanks largely to the midfield prowess of Enda Smith. Indeed, in the move of the match, Smith fielded a high ball and combined with Ciaran Johnston and Conor McHugh across the breadth of the pitch to set up Gary Kelly for a white flag.
With Kelly also wholly accurate from frees, and spurned goal chances for UCD, DCU were able to go into the break just four in arrears.
When Ciaran Byrne scored a belter of a point from 40 metres out early in the second half, it felt like the tide was turning. However, against the run of play, UCD scored their second goal; Niall Kelly found himself in space, shooting past McCarrick following a sumptuous low ball in from Mannion.
Though six points down, DCU somehow gained parity in a scintillating five minute spell. First, substitute Conor McBrearty played the ball into a wide area for Gary Kelly. Kelly burst through the UCD defence and fisted across the face of the goal to Conor McHugh, who palmed home at the far post.
Kelly was involved again for DCU’s second goal; his high ball forward allowed Enda Smith to produce an excellent save from Greg Murphy, before McHugh fired home the rebound.
But despite being level and having the momentum heading into the final 10 minutes, DCU could not take the lead. Instead, UCD opened up a three-point advantage with scores from substitutes Liam Connerton and Fiachra Ward.
With UCD hibernating in their own half for the closing minutes, DCU were unable to penetrate the screen defence, as lengthy spells of possession resulted in wayward shots and turnovers.
A free from the excellent McHugh pared the margin back to two, but the required goal was not forthcoming and so the league crown will reside on the other side of the Liffey for the next 12 months.
Barry Lenihan at Parnell Park