UCD celebrate their victory

Harding Cup Final

UCD regained the Harding Cup for the first time in three years with a 3-0 victory over Maynooth University at Queen’s University in Belfast.

Goals from Harvey O’Brien, Tomás O’Connor and Colm Whelan saw Diarmuid McNally’s side to their 20th success in the freshers competition.

Two goals in the final ten minutes of the first half put UCD in firm control and Whelan added his sixth of the tournament late on to seal victory.

Both sides came into the game in prodigious form, neither having conceded a goal in the tournament and with 11 (UCD) and 14 (Maynooth) goals scored respectively.

The final was a more tense affair, however, and it was UCD who made the breakthrough in the 35th minute when they were awarded a corner on the right-hand side.

Ciaran Behan swung the corner in left-footed and it was met by defender Harvey O’Brien, whose clever flick turned the ball past a helpless Malachy Doyle.

Behan was the creator once more on the stroke of half time as another vicious inswinger found O’Connor at the back post and he bundled the ball into an empty net.

UCD suffered a blow when Liam Kerrigan – who was later named player of the tournament – was forced off with a nasty-looking shoulder injury.

And Maynooth had chances to get back into the game after the break as top scorer Eoin O’Neill and Leon Kennedy both forced good stops from UCD stopper Cormac Henry.

UCD sealed the win in injury time as Whelan – a prolific striker at Under-19 level in the League of Ireland with Waterford – got his name on the scoresheet.

Again, Behan was the provider, exchanging a one-two with Whelan to notch his hat-trick of assists, and the striker tucked the ball expertly into the corner past a despairing Doyle.

“Maynooth were by far the best team we’ve played. Look at their results in the quarter-final and semi-final. It was a very tight game,” said McNally after the win.

“Things went our way today. I said to the players it was going to be a 50/50 game. Luckily, we withstood the pressure early on and luckily we got two set-piece goals in the first half.

“I’m delighted to win it. It’s a huge competition for us. This is a great barometer because we’re at the end of a cycle

“The team that won the Harding in 2016, the Gary O’Neill, Georgie Kelly, Daire O’Connor team, have all gone on to better things.

“We’re certainly rebuilding and we’re looking to build a team that will, hopefully, replicate what that bunch of players did.

“It’s great for these players to get a Harding under their belts. Hopefully we’ll push on and possibly get back to the Premier Division of the Airtricity League.”