Students taste LOI Gold with First Class Honours

by Dave Donnelly

UCD return to the Premier Division for the first time in four years as champions following a tense 1-1 draw with Finn Harps in their penultimate league game of the season.

Conor Davis was on target for the Students eight minutes from time, barely two minutes after captain Keith Cowan had fired Harps into a deserved lead.

The visitors needed no less than a win to force the title race down to the final weekend and they looked to have managed it when Cowan broke the deadlock from a corner.

College, who knew a point would be enough to seal the title, played within themselves and showed little of the fluid, attacking play that’s lit up the second tier this season.

They created few in the way of clear chances during the game but Davis needed only one opportunity as he found himself free in the box and buried his shot in the corner.

The 20-year-old has been a revelation for UCD since joining from Reading in August as a replacement for top scorer Georgie Kelly, who left for Dundalk.

It was Davis’s seventh goal in seven games for the Students to continue the terriific start to his League of Ireland career that saw him nominated for player of the month in August.

UCD had begun the game brightly and looked to exploit the narrow 3-5-2 employed by the visitors by picking out the runs of widemen Neil Farrugia and Jason McClelland.

One such effort yielded the first chance as McClelland cut inside and found Farrugia in the box but the winger couldn’t quite force his effort on goal as he stretched.

The packed Harps midfield soon began to take control, however, and the forward partnership of Jesse Devers linked up for the first real chance.

Devers did well to dig out a cross from the left towards the back post where O’Flynn, having peeled away from Liam Scales, could only head straight at Conor Kearns in the UCD goal.

Kearns then denied Devers when Ciaran Coll’s long throw was flicked on by Sam Todd, but, with just the keeper to beat, he also put his header straight at the keeper.

UCD sat deeper and deeper as the game wore on but looked vulnerable from set pieces, and Niall Logue lashed over when should have scored as Gareth Harkin’s free kick was let bounce.

It was Harkin’s delivery that led to the opening goal, however, as the midfielder’s left-footed delivery was attacked by defender Cowan, who finished with a first-time volley.

The visitors’ joy was shortlived however as, almost directly from the kick-off, former Templeogue United man Davis struck.

“I didn’t enjoy it in the slightest,” UCD manager Collie O’Neill told the Dublin Gazette.

“The bit after the match was enjoyable. That game was tight, scrappy, but it probably wasn’t going to be a night for pretty football. It was a night for just getting the job done.

“It’s a really, really big achievement. To have a team that has an average age of 19, 20; a team that is all college students, to win a national league shouldn’t be underestimated.”

O’Neill added that all of this year’s squad are likely to stay on for 2019, with captain Gary O’Neill freshly enrolled back in college.

“It’ll be more or less the exact same team for next year. Gary O’Neill is back in college. He was over there for fresher’s week getting his free cans of Dutch Gold!”

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