'You can't buy that kind of experience' - UCD upbeat despite emphatic exit
UCD 1 Slovan Bratislava 5
And so, the League of Ireland interest in Europe ends before the month of August for the third year on the trot.
It should be a talking point in the corridors of Abbotstown this morning, but the fear is that the trend will continue without urgent action.
UCD should feel no sense of disappointment, however. Of the five clubs sent into action, the students were saddled with the least expectation.
As a First Division side who qualified via Fair Play rules, fears were expressed that the students would embarrass. The opposite was the case.
It was the performance of some established Premier League outfit that should provoke introspection. St Pat’s exited to a Skonto Riga side that was thrashed 9-2 yesterday; Cork conceded two goals while playing against 10-man KR Reykjavik to depart ignominiously.
UCD went down fighting, providing the sell-out crowd at Belfield plenty of entertainment before the petrol tank emptied and Slovan Bratislava scored three in the final minutes to put a flattering look on the scoreline.
Their boss Collie O’Neill, who used sceptical Twitter comments as motivation ahead of their win over Dudelange in the previous round, was understandably proud of the application in a match where a positive attitude yielded openings.
“You can’t pay money for that kind of experience,” said O’Neill, “We have good players, some good players
For a giddy spell in the first half the hosts, trailing 1-0 from Bratislava, threatened to level the tie with Chris Mulhall breaking to shoot narrowly wide of the nets manned by ex-Everton keeper Jan Mucha.
But this was a rare coming together of a team with Collingwood Cup experience on one side, and World Cup experience on the other.
Big striker Robert Vittek scored four times for Slovakia in South Africa in 2010 - Mucha was their netminder - and the well travelled front man broke the deadlock with a powerful header four minutes before the break.
That was harsh on a UCD team which had defended with discipline. Gary O’Neill impressed in front of the back four, while playmaker Robbie Benson showed why he’s on winter shopping lists. He’s a real talent.
Benson shone in a rally after the resumption which greeted Bratislava doubling their advantage courtesy of a mazy run from Marko Milinkovic.
UCD, boosted by the introduction of Conor Cannon, hit back before the hour mark when his strike partner Ryan Swan slotted away his third goal in four European outings after a mix-up in the Slovan ranks. The son of League of Ireland legend Derek was denied by Mucha from another break.
That offered a glimmer of hope, but the wealthy travellers found another gear and capitalised on UCD fatigue with a Komel Miklos header and an injury time brace from Vittek to complete his hat-trick a cruel consequence.
UCD had nothing more to give. But their exploits have cleared debts and delivered lifelong memories for their small band of supporters.