Stephen Traynor’s winner deep in extra time sealed DCU’s place in their first ever CUFL final, after an epic battle with champions, IT Carlow, which rested on a knife edge from start to finish. It was all square after a hectic 90 minutes, with Adam Hanlon putting IT Carlow ahead four minutes from the break and Michael Isichei equalising with a penalty on the hour mark.
Traynor’s decisive goal did not come until the 105th minute of play, in a clash that twisted, turned and pulsated in a fashion that only neutrals could enjoy. For DCU, the underdogs, as they have been perennially all season, the victory is a validation of the strides they have made this season as a collective.
In the final, they have the chance to avenge their sole loss of the season against DIT, who won 3-0 in an uncharacteristically flat performance from Declan Roche’s side in the last group game back in November. They will also go into next week’s Collingwood Cup brimming with confidence in the knowledge that they have beaten a side many consider to be the best in collegiate soccer.
The opening exchanges were played at a break-neck speed; the tackles were biting and possession was exchanged frequently. DCU passed neatly out from the back, particularly through the excellent Robbie Gaul, and consistently troubled Carlow down the left hand side with the triumvirate of David Gaul, Stephen Traynor and Daniel Mahon.
However, this endeavour yielded no clear cut chances, the first of which fell to Carlow’s Andy Mulligan, who forced an athletic save from Ben Dale in the 14th minute. This gave the champions something of an impetus and they began a considerable spell in DCU’s half. Unfortunately for Carlow, this transpired to be a double-edged sword.
DCU pursued them doggedly, shutting down any corridor of available space. Carlow were subsequently unable to play with any penetration and were reduced to playing laterally from touchline to touchline or firing long, speculative balls into the danger zone. This clearly frustrated them and their foul count began to multiply.
Little separated the sides until Adam Hanlon’s wonderful goal; the winger beautifully controlled a looping cross from Barry O’Mahony, before volleying past Ben Dale with the outside of his right foot. And so it was going into the break.
DCU came back from the break in the ascendancy; moving the ball well and forcing Carlow to cover a lot of ground. Substitute Connor Ralph fired over after Traynor laid off a David Gaul free kick. But, again, it was Carlow who carved out the strongest chance early on, with Daniel Mahon heading an in swinging corner off the line.
DCU’s penalty, won by Mahon as he drove into the box, may have been awarded a little softly, but Michael Isichei’s cool finish was never in doubt. Both teams had chances go a begging during the remainder of normal time, and the score line gave an accurate account of what had transpired, though, rather tellingly, DCU appeared to have more left in the tank.
The first period of extra time was largely uneventful; mainly due to relentless pressure DCU subjected Carlow to, with Gavin McArdle and Rory Dunleavy incessantly tackling every red jersey in sight. When Traynor’s goal came it was just reward for DCU’s industry and perseverance. A Connor Ralph corner caused mayhem in the Carlow box and the Bohemians man managed to poke the ball past Michael Schlingerman.
DCU were forced to play out a hairy final five minutes and, the party was almost spoiled when Ben Ryan smashed the upright. In the end, DCU simply wanted it more
Tom Rooney at Home Farm FC, Whitehall