Colm Whelan's superb free-kick broke the deadlock for UCD. Bryan Keane/INPHO
Going Up?

Ireland underage starlet's brilliant free kick helps UCD triumph in play-offs

Goals from Colm Whelan and Paul Doyle saw the Students overcome Bray Wanderers.

Bray Wanderers 0-2 UCD

IRELAND U21 INTERNATIONAL Colm Whelan lit up the First Division play-off final, opening the scoring from distance with a stunning free-kick, as UCD beat Bray 2-0 tonight.

Paul Doyle sealed the victory late on with a clinical finish as the Students set up a promotion-relegation decider with Waterford, which has been confirmed for Friday 26 November at Richmond Park.

It was certainly a deserved victory for Andy Myler’s men, as they were increasingly dominant as the match wore on, with Whelan and Ireland U21 teammate Liam Kerrigan the standout performers.

Meanwhile, another season in the First Division beckons for Gary Cronin’s side, who will be disappointed with tonight’s showing as they looked second best for most of the contest and were limited to a few half-chances.

This match pitted the side that finished third and fifth in the First Division this year. Bray earned a 1-0 aggregate win over Galway in the semi-final, while UCD saw off Treaty United 4-2.

There were two changes for the Students from that second leg — Michael Gallagher and Seán Brennan came into the side, while Adam Vernon and Eoin Farrell dropped to the bench.

There was one change for the Seagulls, meanwhile, as Luka Lovic came in for the suspended Conor Clifford after the former Chelsea trainee picked up his 12th yellow card of the season against Galway.

In the early stages, Lovic earned a free-kick after a fine individual run, but the subsequent effort from Jack Keaney from about 30 yards out went a few inches over.

Kerrigan then got his first sight at goal in the 12th minute but blazed a shot from distance well over after beating his man.

Moments later, the referee brandished his first yellow card of the night as Sam Todd was cautioned for cynically chopping down Joe Doyle as the attacker sped away from him.

In the 19th minute, Todd could only find the side-netting with a header after getting on the end of a set-piece, while Joe Doyle could not direct a similar chance on target down the other end shortly thereafter.

The majority of the first half was a tense, tight affair, with neither side wanting to give anything away, and chances at a premium.

Kerrigan did catch the eye though, with his pace and trickery causing Bray problems.

Whelan then had the best chance of the match up to that point eight minutes before half-time. The striker evaded a defender’s challenge in the area and rifled a shot against a post, as the vociferous Bray supporters in attendance breathed a sigh of relief.

But otherwise, as the half-time whistle sounded, the game was finely balanced at 0-0 with neither team looking especially threatening.

bray-wanderers-fans-set-off-flares-at-dalymount-park Bray Wanderers fans set off flares at Dalymount Park. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

The start of the second half was similarly scrappy, with both sides struggling to develop any real rhythm to their play and hopeful long balls a common sight.

Doyle did have a rare half-chance 10 minutes after the break, but his header from the edge of the area was straight at the goalkeeper.

Moments later, Aaron Barry let the ball bounce and hoped it would run out of play, but Whelan sped on to it and his low shot from a tight angle was saved by the legs of his Ireland U21 teammate Brian Maher.

On the hour mark, Doyle curled an effort from the edge of the area a few inches over after a good run by Richie O’Farrell in the build-up.

Moments later, the stadium announcer was prompted to announce that “the game will be suspended” if Bray fans continued to throw flares and other objects onto the pitch, with this threat prompting only ironic cheers from the Seagulls’ support. 

In the 64th minute, the two Ireland youngsters linked up, as Kerrigan got on the end of Whelan’s cross but his connection wasn’t strong enough to truly test Maher.

UCD were well on top by this point, with Kerrigan and Whelan looking the two likeliest players to create an opening, and it was no surprise when the latter broke the deadlock in the 68th minute.

The 21-year-old Kilkenny native fired home a brilliant free-kick from about 30 yards out to send the UCD half of the stadium into raptures.

Whelan came close to doubling his team’s advantage minutes later but a Bray defender just got to Kerrigan’s low cross before he could connect.

Bray weren’t creating too many chances, but they had a decent one with seven minutes to go. Substitute Steven Kinsella’s cross fell to O’Farrell, whose first-time effort on the edge of the area went narrowly wide. 

UCD remained a threat on the break, however, and sealed a deserved win in the 86th minute. Doyle fired a low shot home from just inside the area on the counter-attack, as another flare was thrown onto the pitch in frustration from the Bray end.

Whelan almost added the icing on the cake in the dying stages but his powerful effort was expertly tipped over by Maher.

The victory means UCD remain on course for a return to the Premier Division for the first time since 2019.

Bray Wanderers: 1. Brian Maher 8. Mark Byrne 4. Andrew Quinn 5. Aaron Barry 3. Dylan Barnett 7. Ryan Graydon 17. Luka Lovic (Kinsella 80) 14. Richie O’Farrell 16. Darren Craven (Verdon 75) 11. Brandon Kavanagh 9. Joe Doyle. 

Subs: 25. Kian Clarke 15. Daniel Jones 18. Seán Callan 18. Darragh Lynch 20. Ryan Bowden 22. Steven Kinsella 23. Sam Hayden 28. Sam Verdon 30. Jack Ross

UCD: 1. Lorcan Healy 2. Michael Gallagher 24. Harvey O’Brien 22. Sam Todd 3. Evan Osam 6. Jack Keaney 27. Seán Brennan 17. Dara Keane (Dignam 89) 7. Liam Kerrigan 21. Paul Doyle (Vernon 89) 10. Colm Whelan.

Subs: 16. Carl Williams 5. Luke Boore 8. Mark Dignam 11. Ciarán Behan 12. Adam Lennon 14. Eoin Farrell 15. Adam Verdon 19. Lennon Gill 30. Evan Caffrey

Referee: Oliver Moran

Bernard Jackman, Gavan Casey, and Murray Kinsella reflect on Ireland’s stunning win over the All Blacks, hail Ciara Griffin’s Ireland career, and chat about Rassie:

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

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