Andrew Dempsey reports from the UCD Bowl
Dean Byrne’s sensational 121st minute winner saw Longford Town just about keep their promotion hopes alive as they saw off UCD during an incredible game at the Belfield Bowl.
Byrne struck with the final kick of the game to see Town complete an unbelievable extra-time fightback after they fell behind with just ten minutes of extra-time to play.
First Joe Gorman levelled again – after he scored a late equaliser to bring the game to extra-time – before Byrne put his name into Longford folklore with a late winner.
Colm Whelan of course opened the scoring in the first-half of normal time – but his 15th goal of the season was to be in vain as UCD saw their 2020 come to heartbreaking halt.
Knowing that only a victory would keep his side’s promotion dreams alive, Town boss Daire Doyle made four changes from his side’s two-one defeat away to Wexford on the final night of the league season.
Aodh Dervin returned to the fold in place of Matthew O’Brien, while Shane Elworthy came back into the starting XI after a recent injury.
UCD on the other hand made one alteration from their most recent league outing away to Galway United, with captain Jack Keaney returning to the fold after suspension.
Longford began the game well and should have taken a fifth minute lead through Karl Chambers.
Chambers however blazed over the bar after he was found by captain Dean Zambra’s low cross into the penalty area.
But after their slow start, UCD went close after fifteen minutes through both Liam Kerrigan and Yoyo Mahdy.
The attacking duo forced two good saves from Town keeper Lee Steacy – but they would soon take the lead minutes later.
Paul Doyle’s free-kick routine was met by the head of Colm Whelan who bagged his fifteenth goal of the 2020 season.
The ex-Waterford under-19 star was left unmarked in the Longford penalty area, leaving Steacy with no chance.
But Town reacted well to going behind, with Rob Manley blazing over the bar after going on a good foraging run through the UCD defence.
Despite enjoying much of the play, Longford once again coughed up another opportunity from a set-piece.
But this time they were saved by the linesman’s flag as both Yoyo Mahdy and Whelan were adjudged to have been offside.
As the half inched towards its conclusion, Town ought to have levelled through Chambers – but the Dubliner could only blast his shot over the bar from six yards out.
The ball fell into Chambers’ path after the ball was knocked into his path by Dervin, but the midfielder could not convert as they went in behind at the break.
Daire Doyle’s charges continued to enjoy the play as the second-half began, but they were denied by the feet of Lorcan Healy early on.
Liam Kerrigan would then have the next notable effort on goal ten minutes from time, but his shot would just go wide of goal.
But Longford would not be denied – and they brought the game into extra-time as Joe Gorman powered home from sub Niall Barnes’ set-piece.
And after an incredible end to normal time, the drama did not let up in extra-time – with both sides going close during a fascinating opening half.
But it was not until the second-half of extra-time for the game to roar into life – as Yoyo Mahdy bagged his 16th goal of the season.
Mahdy powered home after Kerrigan saw his shot saved by Steacy – and that looked to have sealed UCD’s passage into the First Division Playoff final.
But, of course, it was not to be. Gorman once again rose highest to head home at the back post from a Niall Barnes corner six minutes from time.
And there was one final twist to come as Dean Byrne – the same man who nearly saw his 2020 wiped out due to injury last February – struck in the 121st minute of the game to see Town through.
The Dubliner picked up on a lay-off from fellow striking partner and sub Callum Warfield to fire home into the top corner of the UCD net.
Longford will now play Galway United on Friday evening in the First Division Playoff Final. The winner of that game will face the 9th placed Premier Division side.
UCD: Lorcan Healy; Evan Weir (Mark Dignam 77), Harry McEvoy, Josh Collins, Luke Boore; Liam Kerrigan, Jack Keaney, Evan Farrell (Michael Gallagher 61), Paul Doyle; Yousef Mahdy, Colm Whelan (Dara Keane 81).
Subs not used: Adam Verdon, Matthew Treanor, Danu Kinsella Bishop, Isaac Akinsete.
Booked: Evan Farrell (54), Luke Boore (58), Lorcan Healy (62), Liam Kerrigan (77).
Longford Town: Lee Steacy; Joe Gorman, Joseph Manley, Michael McDonnell; Karl Chambers (Dean Byrne 64), Aodh Dervin, Shane Elworthy, Dylan Grimes (Niall Barnes 84), Aaron McNally (Callum Warfield 84), Dean Zambra (Aaron McCabe 80); Rob Manley.
Subs not used: Luke Dennison, Dylan Hand.
Booked: Aodh Dervin (17), Karl Chambers (21).
Referee: Kevin O'Sullivan
ExtraTime.ie Player of the Match: Joe Gorman (Longford Town).
120' GGGGGGOOOOOOALLLLLLLLL!!!— Longford Town FC (@LongfordTownFC) October 31, 2020
JESUS MARY AND JOSPEH ITS DEAN BYRNE WOTH A ROCKET!!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/UeAzUBDzWF