Cahal McAuley reports from Richmond Park
UCD sealed a return to the League of Ireland Premier Division after an impressive 2-1 win over Waterford in the promotion/relegation final at a chilly Richmond Park on Friday evening.
Goals from former Waterford underage players Dara Keane and Colm Whelan were enough to secure the win for the Students after Anthony Wordsworth gave the Blues an early first-half lead, as Waterford were relegated to the First Division.
Waterford were subjected to a chaotic week of preparation, as manager Marc Bircham was sacked and replaced by Ian Hendon who had just a couple of days to get his new side ready for a vital fixture.
The disorganisation of the club’s hierarchy rubbed off on the players as they put in a disjointed performance, as they were ultimately outclassed by the Students.
But they did come storming out of the blocks from the opening whistle, pinning UCD inside their own half, taking the lead after just five minutes.
A cross from the left-hand side was headed down to Wordsworth on the edge of the box and the former Southend man made no mistake, in hammering the ball into the bottom corner.
Waterford stifled the threat of the Students perfectly in the opening stages as Whelan and Liam Kerrigan were given no space in which to operate with the Blues’ midfield hoovering up the majority of second balls.
UCD eventually managed to get a foot on the ball, but Waterford still carried the larger threat down the wings, however, it was only a matter of time before the potent UCD attack began to find their rhythm.
Whelan started to find more space running in behind the Waterford defence as the Students grew into the game more and more, eventually restoring parity on 26 minutes.
Liam Kerrigan marauded down the right wing, putting a low pass across the face of goal which was prodded home by Dara Keane for his fourth goal of the season.
Waterford almost reestablished their lead minutes later through a flick on header from Wordsworth, but the midfielder couldn’t score his second of the night as he watched his effort drift just wide.
The Students were finding space in midfield with increasing ease as the half wore on. The dancing feet of Kerrigan wreaked havoc in the Waterford backline once again, but Brian Murphy was equal to his effort, palming it away from danger.
Dara Keane put in an inspired first half display, this time turning provider, chasing down a lost cause inside the box and squaring it to Whelan who had the easiest of finishes to complete a ruthless turnaround from UCD on 34 minutes.
The game settled down before the half with neither side wanting to concede before the break, as Waterford went in shellshocked at being pegged back after a perfect start.
Whelan had a chance to give UCD some breathing room just after the restart as he was put through on goal by a clever one two with Paul Doyle, but Murphy was quick off his line to make the save and keep the deficit at one.
Waterford tried to hit back with what was becoming an increasingly rare foray forward with Halford flicking the ball on to Quitirna Junior Armando, who could only curl an effort wide and over the bar.
UCD were still seeking an elusive third goal to calm their nerves and almost had it just after the hour mark as Murphy spilled a corner, but Jack Keaney’s effort struck the side netting to leave the game hanging in the balance.
The fixture became increasingly cagey as the minutes ticked by, but Waterford were almost the architects of their own downfall as a misplaced backpass put Whelan through on goal, but the veteran Murphy showed an impressive turn of pace for a second time to deny the striker, taking ball and man in the process.
The Blues had to increasingly resort to fouls to stop the electric UCD attack as the game went on, picking up a whopping six booking in the space of 35 minutes.
This came back to haunt them however, as half time substitute Niall O’Keefe was given his marching orders on 87 minutes after picking up a second booking for bringing down Kerrigan on the counter.
Waterford had done little to trouble the Students defence with 11 men on the pitch and O’Keefe’s dismissal all but ended their hopes of maintaining their Premier Division status.
Dara Keane almost put the game beyond all doubt in injury time, but was denied by the legs of Murphy. However, it mattered not as UCD saw out the win and secured their return to the top flight after two seasons in the First Divison.
UCD were well worth the win, blitzing Waterford in the period before half time and then comfortably seeing out the victory after the break.
The Blues are relegated to the second tier after four seasons in the Premier Division as a torrid week for the club went from bad to worse.
But the night was all about the Students as Andy Myler and his side can now look forward to Premier Division football next season.
Waterford: Brian Murphy; Jack Stafford, Darragh Power (Niall O'Keeffe 46), Greg Halford, Kyle Ferguson (Shane Griffin 62); Anthony Wordsworth, Junior Quitirna, Phoenix Patterson, Eddie Nolan, Cameron Evans; John Martin.
Subs not used: Matthew Connor, Jeremie Milambo, George Forrest, Isaac Tshipamba, Ronaldo Romario Green, Jamal Dupree , Callum Stringer.
Booked: Anthony Wordsworth (40), Jack Stafford (52), Cameron Evans (68), Greg Halford (75), Niall O'Keeffe (86).
Sent off: Niall O'Keeffe (86).
UCD: Lorcan Healy; Michael Gallagher, Harvey O'Brien, Evan Osam, Sam Todd; Sean Brennan, Paul Doyle (Mark Dignam 90+2), Dara Keane, Jack Keaney (c), Liam Kerrigan; Colm Whelan.
Subs not used: Carl Williams, Ciaran Behan, Luke Boore, Adam Verdon, Eoin Farrell, Evan Caffrey, Adam Lennon, Danu Kinsella Bishop.
Referee: Paul McLaughlin.
Extratime.com Player of the Match: Dara Keane (UCD).
Attendance: 2,000 (Estimate).