Daniel Aherne’s goal in the 68th minute was enough to see DCU through to their first ever CUFL semi-final after a difficult encounter with highly-favoured hosts, IT Letterkenny. The champions, IT Carlow, await them, after easily dispatching of UL by 5-1 in their quarter- final.
The weather, particularly in the first half, had an acute influence on proceedings; a strong wind and slanting rain were less than conducive to flowing football. Thus, DCU owe this victory more to work rate and perseverance than anything else. To a man, they put in a mammoth shift and, when the elements permitted, tried to play with ambition.
This was personified no more so than frontmen Michael Isichei and Daniel Aherne. Consistently running the channels, dropping deep to make themselves viable options for would-be-passers and leading the defensive line from the top- it was a master class in the thankless aspects of centre forward play.
At the other end of the pitch, DCU’s modified defence looked a far more balanced unit with the excellent Gavin McArdle coming in to partner Robbie Gaul in the middle, and Mark Logan switching to his favoured position of right-full. Letterkenny’s attackers were afforded little opportunity throughout and were reduced to living off scraps. As their goal tally attests, IT Carlow will present a far more daunting challenge, so it is paramount this level of performance be maintained.
Due to the aforementioned weather conditions, aesthetically much of the football played was not befitting of the occasion, and the first-half was largely uneventful. DCU chose to play into the wind, neutralising their standard model of play, however, after the tentative opening exchanges they began to exert some territorial dominance. Daniel Aherne forced a save from Cíaran Gallagher, deflecting a Stephen Traynor cross goal bound after 15 minutes.
DCU came close again when Michael Isichei’s cross fizzed across the goal mouth, narrowly evading the on-coming Philip Kavanagh. Kavanagh was unlucky again, when his stinging shot was parried away by Gallagher. Letterkenny largely relied on their set piece as a means of attack, but failed to cause DCU any real concern.
The half ended with a bloodied Philip O’Driscoll being replaced by Connor Ralph after a nasty clash of heads with Rory Dunleavy drew a collective wince from the side line.
By the restart the poor weather had largely abated, DCU began to put their passes together, playing out from the back,and enjoying a monopoly of possession. But the telling ball continued to elude them. Undaunted, they continued to come in waves with Connor Ralph and Rory Dunleavy drawing fine saves from Gallagher.
Letterkenny, to be fair, also tried to play more, with the outstanding Barry McNamee passing with real purpose, but the DCU bulwark would not be breached.
When the goal came it was just rewards for DCU’s endeavour. Stephen Traynor’s through ball found Philip Kavanagh down the left hand side, and when he failed to find Isichei the attack looked to be moot. But, as is his want, the centre forward harried Dean Bonner into coughing up possession and found Connor Ralph, whose shot struck the upright before Aherne side footed home from point blank range.
The victory will have been slightly tempered by the sight of David Gaul hobbling off minutes from time, but DCU continue to defy the bookies. Watch this space.