Monday 22 January 2018

Harsh ending to brave UCD's Euro adventure

UCD 1 Slovan Bratislava 5, Bratislava win 6-1 on agg

Ryan Swan slides the ball past Slovan Bratislava goalkeeper Ján Mucha to score for UCD at the Belfield Bowl
Ryan Swan slides the ball past Slovan Bratislava goalkeeper Ján Mucha to score for UCD at the Belfield Bowl
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

And so, the League of Ireland interest in Europe ends before 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 UCD would embarrass the Irish game. The opposite was the case.

It was the performance of some established Premier League outfits - St Patrick's Athletic and Cork City - that should provoke introspection.

UCD went down fighting, providing the sell-out crowd at Belfield with 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.

UCD manager Collie O'Neill, who used sceptical Twitter comments as motivation ahead of their win over Dudelange in the previous round, was proud of his side's application.

"You can't pay money for that kind of experience," said O'Neill. "We've enjoyed this month. It's been brilliant.

"They're a great bunch and we want to keep them together and get back to the Premier Division."


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 chance for a team with Collingwood Cup experience taking on a team with World Cup experience.

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 followed 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. Swan then forced a good save from Mucha.

That offered a glimmer of hope, but the wealthy visitors 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 and officials.

UCD - Corbet, Leahy, Kouogun, Boyle, Langtry; O'Neill, Watts (Cannon 55); Mulhall (Belhout 87), Benson, Doyle (Kirwan 75); Swan.

Slovan Bratislava - Mucha, Sekulic, Miklos, Dobrotka (Hudak 69), Podany; Milinkovic (Gasporovic 83), Stefanik, Lasik, Kubik (Orsula 68); Vittek, Zrelak.

Ref - O Valjic (Bosnia)

Irish Independent

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