UCD manager Andy Myler cut a very proud figure at Oriel Park on Friday night, and rightfully so, as his new look side earned a well deserved point at the home of a Dundalk team who will be playing in Europe this summer. You wouldn’t have guessed it on last night’s showing as Stephen O’Donnell’s men were made to look extremely ordinary at times by a well organised Students side who also played some lovely passing football on the evening.
Speaking to BetweenTheStripes.net after the 1-1 draw on the opening night of the new League of Ireland season, Myler revealed how proud he was of his players.
“It was a really good performance from us, I’m pleased overall, we were mature and really hard working and despite it being a windy night we placed some really nice stuff and deserved a point in the end I think”, said the UCD boss.
Despite dominating the opening quarter of the game, UCD never looked too concerned at any stage with goalkeeper Lorcan Healy well able to bail his defenders out of the odd moment of trouble they found themselves in. Staying in games is not a new feeling for UCD and Myler felt the experience of last season, when UCD stayed up via the play-offs, was a big benefit at Oriel Park on Friday night.
“That ‘s probably down to a lot of the work we did last year on staying in games and if you go 1-0 down keeping it at 1-0 and we were really good at that today, we stood up to it and by the end of the half the crowd had gone a little bit quiet because we’d grown into the game and were well in it, we’re just delighted with the point to start and want to kick on from here.”
On 22 minutes however, UCD gave away a penalty after Patrick Hoban broke out the Holland v Argentina World Cup playbook with the Dundalk striker shaping as if he was going to shoot from a direct free-kick on the edge of the area only to slip a clever pass inside with the intend receiver being brought down in the area. It appeared a formality that Hoban would open his and
Dundalk’s account for the season only for Healy to produce a fantastic save to the disbelief of the home fans, who had turned out in force with an official attendance of 3,142 at Oriel Park.
Commenting on the penalty incident, Myler remarked: “It was hard to get a look at it but we’re disappointed from the point of view of being caught out with the trick free kick, I didn’t really see the challenge because it was behind the wall but after that it was a brilliant save from Lorcan because it wasn’t a bad penalty and that gives us a little confidence because maybe it’s your night you know?”
UCD clearly did take confidence from Healy’s penalty heroics as just moments later Nathan Shepperd was forced to make a finger tips save to deny Donal Higgins an opening day cracker from range. Despite Dundalk slipping into a sloppy period of play over the following minutes, they eventually took the lead roughly ten minutes before the break when John Martin latched onto a loose ball inside the penalty area before dispatching the ball past a helpless Lorcan Healy.
By the way, here's the John Martin goal in the first half. Fox in the box🦊pic.twitter.com/vRtsuhVy4U
— Between the Stripes (@betweenstripes) February 17, 2023
Despite leading at the break, Dundalk never looked like putting the game to bed in the second-half as O’Donnell’s side, which contained four debutants in the starting XI, struggled to find any real rhythm. And they were duly punished just three minutes from time when the stand out player on the night Ciaran Behan converted a wonderful free-kick from roughly twenty-five-yards. The midfielder is not a name that would be widely known in LOI circles but judging by his display on Friday night, that may be about to change.
“Ciaran would have dropped off most people’s radar last year, we felt it was a good idea to drop him into Leinster Senior League last year and he has come on an absolute bomb in Leinster Senior, he’s really taken that the right way and gone after it, he’s been absolutely fantastic and was the best player on the pitch tonight, his quality on the ball is really good and the quality of his delivery from set-pieces as you saw tonight was excellent”, Myler said.
It wasn’t just Behan who caught the eye for UCD with recent addition from Derry City Brendan Barr also turning in a highly impressive performance.
“Brendan is coming down to do his masters in teaching and he’s obviously got a great grounding with Derry with the competition for places and the training in Ruaidhri Higgins and Alan Reynolds environment, he’s been out on loan up the north as well so he comes with a bit of experience as well which is vital for us.”
The opening night of the campaign could have got even better for UCD as with five additional minutes tagged on to the end of the second-half, it was the visitors who looked the more likely team to possibly grab a winner.
“We’re asking the players this year to be a bit braver on the ball and a bit better in possession and we certainly did that tonight and from that we forced a couple of corners at the end.”
“The Collingwood Cup has been on and some of the lads probably had three games under their belt already this week so from our point of view we are delighted with that performance.”
Sligo Rovers will be the visitors to the Belfield Bowl next Friday and while UCD will still be the red hot favourites for relegation this season, Myler revealed outside expectations for the group is not something he or his players discuss.
“We don’t talk about in much to be honest with you, we know what the expectations are, every journalist you talk to every podcast you do they talk about just staying up so we don’t tend to dwell on it as it’s kind of a negative story, we just want the players to come on as best they can, if we get relegated and five players end up having fantastic careers in the game that’s fine, we don’t want to get relegated obviously, we feel that the best way to develop players is to be as competitive in the Premier Division as we possibly can, if that keeps up up absolutely fine but we’ll take what it is and if we can get performances like that every week we will take it no matter where we end up in the league, we’ll take it.”
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