UCD emerged victorious after 120 long, gruelling, extremely cold minutes at the Belfield Bowl on Tuesday night. A Kieran Marty Watters strike one minute from time ensured that Collie O’Neill’s side made it through to the semi-final stage of the Leinster Senior Cup despite a valiant effort from Bluebell United.
The home side opted for a raft of changes as many of their under nineteens were granted places amongst the match day squad although the Students management team still opted to name some star quality amongst those young fledglings’ with captain Gary O’Neill not being afforded any time off while Greg Sloggett and Ryan Swan were both introduced as second-half substitutes.
Making his UCD debut after a turbulent, injury ridden few months was former Irish international Jason Byrne, although there was no goals for the League of Ireland stalwart as Byrne left the field on the hour mark having run himself ragged, closing down the Bluebell defence at every opportunity.
A dire opening half-hour saw little to report other than a whistle happy referee and a number of wayward shots from both sides. Then just minutes shy of half time Karl Russell scored a thunderous strike from 30 yards out that left Conor O’Donnell with no chance in the UCD goal as the Leinster Senior League side went into the break one to the good and firmly in the driving seat.
With the words of Manager Collie O’Neill still ringing in their ears UCD set about trying to stamp some authority on the game but their opening effort of the second period saw Gary O’Neill blast over the bar from 35 yards out – speculative to say the least.
Just moments later and Byrne and Wters combined beautifully for the home side only for the latter to hit his effort too close to Andy McNulty in the United goal.
However, the best chance of the opening 15 minutes of the second half fell to the non-league side as Graham Zambra rushed clear of the sleeping College backline only to see his one on one effort with Conor O’Donnell come off the wrong side of the post and flash wide.
As the half wore on it appeared that Bluebell were beginning to tire the quicker as more and more shots seemed to be coming from the 30 yard distance rather than the nice build up play associated with Andy Noonan’s team earlier on in the contest.
With just over 15 minutes remaining Gary O’Neill equalised for UCD after some poor defending from Bluebell as they failed to clear their lines Following Coyne’s through ball to O’Connor. O’Connor then saw his chipped attempt parried by McNulty straight into the path of O’Neill who tapped home.
That lead lasted an entire three minutes before Bluebell were back in front as Graham Zambra beat O’Donnell following a delightful through ball that allowed him to just toe poke it beyond the onrushing goalkeeper.
After waiting for so long to get the contests second goal, the goals then seem to come along like buses as just five minutes elapsed before Waters had the ball in the net after catching out the Bluebell defence with a delightful chip following some more hazardous decision making at the back from the amateur footballers.
With the game heading for extra-time, every missed chance in the final few minutes was greeted with a collected sigh from the crowd as another 30 minutes in the freezing cold temperatures seemed like a certainty.
When Collins, O’Connor and O’Neill managed to miss chances in injury time some decided they had seen enough and left the ground for the comforts of their warm homes leaving about 20 brave souls to watch the extra periods.
Six minutes into those extra periods and Bluebell took the lead for the third time as Zambra volleyed home following some abysmal defending from the Students.
Then on the stroke of half time in extra-time, captain O’Neill stepped up to smash an inch perfect free-kick beautifully in off the post from 25 yards out.
The game was taking its toll on both sets of players as multiple cramps began to appear with even worse news for Collie O’Neill as a heavy tackle saw substitute Ryan Swan leave the field with an injured ankle. Tensions were beginning to flare as a few handbags began to break out at every free-kick situation but then with just one minute remaining in the extra-time UCD got a winner.
It went to Waters as he scored his second goal of the game as he converted superbly into the far corner of the goal after latching on to a lofted ball over the United defence to save both sides from the dreaded penalty shoot-out.
UCD: Conor O’Donnell, Adam Harney, Josh Collins, Tomas Boyle, Sean Coyne; Daire O’Connor, Dylan Watts, Gary O’Neill, Kieran Marty Waters; Georgie Kelly (Ryan Swan 69) (Gareth Coughlan 110), Jason Byrne (Greg Sloggett 60).
Subs Not Used: Niall Corbet, Sean Byrne, Liam Scales.
Yellow Cards: Adam Harney (92).
Bluebell United: Andy McNulty, Karl Russell, Peter Sherlock, Gilmar Mandiangu, Tony Keeler; Jordan Keegan (Glenn Keddy 68), Barry Slattery (Robert Bayly 65), Ketih Quinn, Abibula Sule; Peter Darcy (Sean Gleeson 91), Graham Zambra.
Subs Not Used: Tony Griggith, Gerard Towe, Andy Noonan, Keith Foy.
Yellow Cards: Tony Keeler (108), Abibula Sule (115).
Referee: Alan Carey.
Attendance: 50 (estimate).
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Gary O’Neill (UCD).