Andrew Dempsey reports from the UCD Bowl
UCD successfully negotiated past the spirited challenge of Ulster Senior League runners-up Letterkenny Rovers after an early scare in the FAI Cup first round.
The Students scored five in the second half to secure their passage to the next round, with Liam Kerrigan on the double late on as Yoyo Mahdy, Richie O’Farrell and Jason McClelland also struck in the second half.
Eamonn McConigley’s side can be proud of their performance with former Finn Harps youngster BJ Banda scoring twice against their more-illustrious hosts.
The Co. Donegal side lined up in a traditional 4-4-2 shape, but they were almost undone within the opening three minutes as Jack Keaney’s free header was cleared off the line by former Manchester United youth Ryan McConnell.
Letterkenny, with Gary Merritt and former Finn Harps striker BJ Banda up top, provided a slight threat on the break, with Banda flashing wide after being found by a long ball from deep early on.
Jason McClelland then saw a strike from outside the area just go wide of goal after a lovely series of passes from the Students as Collie O’Neill’s side ratcheted up the intensity a little more.
However, despite their early dominance, UCD fell behind thanks to Banda’s close-range finish halfway through the opening period.
The Finn Harps playoff hero of 2015 slotted home after the Students were unable to clear a throw-in, leaving Tom Murphy helpless in goal for the hosts.
Collie O’Neill’s Premier Division basement battlers continued to probe and through recent recruit Liam Kerrigan, they created opportunities to level.
The former Sligo Rovers youngster cut inside from the left to find Evan Farrell free at the back post, but the centre-back was unable to keep his effort down on the half-volley.
Despite dominating the play in the middle thirds, the best UCD could conjure up in the final stages of the opening half was a fierce Richie O’Farrell shot that whistled past the post – leaving the Students behind at the break.
Just minutes into the second half, UCD got their equaliser through substitute Yoyo Mahdy. Mahdy combined well with Sam Byrne.
Byrne attempted to get a shot away but was unable to, leaving Mahdy on hand to slot home to put some of the first-half anxieties to bed for the hosts.
Having looked lively during the opening half, Kerrigan played a central role as UCD took the lead on the hour mark.
The former Sligo Rovers youngster fed in Jason McClelland who scored with his weaker right foot as the Students took control of the game as the visitors appeared to be visibly tiring.
Mahdy had a glorious opportunity to extend his goal tally for the day but he could not curl his effort home after some glorious play.
The Students then extended their lead to two with just over 15 minutes remaining as Richie O’Farrell fired home.
Letterkenny ‘keeper and captain Rory Kelly misjudged the flight of the ball, leaving O’Farrell able to score his fourth of the season.
However, BJ Banda provided a glimmer of hope for the visitors after a defensive mix-up between Liam Scales and Tom Murphy saw the ex-Harps youngster pick up the ball.
The 21-year-old lofted the ball into the top corner of the net to raise jitters around the UCD Bowl, as the visitors still had a fighting chance of bringing the game to extra-time.
However, hopes of an extra half hour were dashed as Kerrigan smashed home late on to secure the Students passage into the next round – after Mahdy’s initial shot was blocked.
Kerrigan soon added his second in the dying moments of the game, curling home after being found from the right by fellow forward Byrne.
All in all, it was job done for Collie O’Neill’s young guns, against a side that can certainly be proud of their performance against top-flight opposition.
UCD: Tom Murphy; Liam Scales, Aaron McGrath (Yoyo Mahdy, H/T), Evan Farrell, Isaac Akinsete; Richie O'Farrell (Dara Keane, 86), Jason McClelland (James Daly, 85), Liam Kerrigan, Jack Keaney, Paul Doyle; Sam Byrne.
Subs not used: Gavin Sheridan, Danu Kinsella Bishop, Luke Boore, Dan Tobin.
Letterkenny Rovers: Rory Kelly, Kevin McGrath (Zach Gorman, 75), Ryan McConnell, Ryan Lonergan (Ciaran Kelly, 85), Emmet Friars; Declan Sharkey, Chris Malseed, Jonny Bonner, Lee Toland; BJ Banda, Gary Merritt (Pajo Rafferty, 85)
Subs not used: Dan O'Donnell, Joel Gorman, Blake Forkan, Jonathan Coady.
Booked: Gary Merritt (42), Lee Toland (47), Emmet Friars (67).
Referee: Paula Brady.
Attendance: 150 (Estimate).
ExtraTime.ie Player of the Match: Liam Kerrigan (UCD).