At this stage it will take a collapse of Devon Loch proportions for St Pat’s to lose their grip on the 2013 League of Ireland title.
In possession of a vastly superior goal difference to Dundalk, their nearest challengers, all they need is one more win to secure their first (official) title since 1999, when Liam Buckley, their manager, was coming to the end of his first spell in charge of the Inchicore club.
Since then Buckley has been to hell and back. Financial constraints limited his ambitions at Shamrock Rovers and while he was the brainchild behind Sporting Fingal’s creation, he was powerless to prevent their implosion.
This then, is his season of redemption. Having rebuilt this Pat’s team over a two-year-period, he has suddenly seen them mature into winners. Last night, they had questions asked about their nerve after UCD took a 23rd minute lead, yet they answered them.
Within 10 minutes of the warning lights flashing, they had claimed the lead, Chris Forrester being the scorer of one goal and creator of another. And with their noses in front, the pressure noticeably eased.
By the second half Pat’s were doing what Pat’s do best – stroking the ball around, jealously guarding possession, outnumbering UCD in every department of the park with the fluidity of their movement and interchanging of positions.
At the heart of everything was Forrester, handed the split-striker role by Buckley, who thrived with the responsibility, demanding the ball from his team-mates, determined to shape the events of this evening.
And he did. His equalising goal couldn’t have come at a better time – because UCD, goaded into a performance by the words of the Dundalk manager, Stephen Kenny, who questioned their ability to engage in a dogfight, had gone into an unexpected lead.
The opening quarter had played out to form – St Pat’s dominating, UCD retreating, before everything changed in the 23rd minute, when Robert Benson stroked his low shot past Brendan Clarke to get the game’s opening goal.
There and then, the anxiety levels of the leaders rose. Passes which had previously been accurate suddenly became wasteful. Could this be one of those nights when titles are lost?
The answer was no. Within eight minutes, Pat’s had restored parity, Forrester scoring after his powerful shot was mishandled by the UCD keeper, Mark McGinley, who, significantly, had stopped the game to adjust his gloves just moments earlier.
And in the final analysis, this proved to be the game’s decisive moment because from here on in, there were no doubts, no indecision. Pat’s played like champions elect, going in front on 33 minutes when Forrester charged through the middle of the park, beating two men, before supplying a perfect pass for Anto Flood, who calmly finished.
As time went on, it would get better again. Forrester aside, all the big performances were coming from the Saints, Ian Bermingham playing superbly down the left flank, John Russell being just as effective in midfield.
In response, all UCD could do was survive. Like Pat’s, they operated off a 4—3-3 system. Like Pat’s, they tried to build the play from the back. But the difference was that the Pat’s players are that bit older, that bit wiser and that bit better.
So the flow got interrupted and UCD struggled to get beyond the Pat’s midfield.
Most of the remaining chances belonged to the visitors – one for Jake Kelly who shot over after the aforementioned Russell and Bermingham had combined to create the opening, another for Forrester whose shot was narrowly wide.
So too was Conan Byrne’s second-half effort, just before Kelly’s 60th minute goal finished this game off, as his low, 20-yard- shot beat McGinley. Late on, Samir Belhout came close for UCD, but Brendan Clarke made a brave save.
Teams: UCD:McGinley; Kelly (Coyne 74), Leahy, Douglas, O’Connor; McCabe (Kavanagh 69), Benson, Creevy (Belhout 66); Walsh, Clarke, Russell
St Pat’s: Clarke; O’Brien, Kenna, Browne, Bermingham; Bolger (McFaul 80), Russell, Forrester; Byrne, Flood (Fagan 74), Kelly (Fitzgerald 85)
Referee: Paul Tuite (Dublin)