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Joy for UCD as they beat beleagured Waterford to seal Premier Division status

It ended a miserable few days for Waterford, who will spend next season in the second tier.

UCD players celebrate scoring.
UCD players celebrate scoring.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

UCD 2

Waterford 1

GOALS FROM DARA Keane and Colm Whelan saw UCD overcome Waterford 2-1 tonight’s promotion-relegation playoff and seal a return to the Premier Division for the first time since 2019.

It ended a miserable few days for Waterford, who will spend next season in the second tier.

The Blues began brightly and took the lead thanks to a fine Anthony Wordsworth strike.

Nevertheless, close-range finishes from Keane and Whelan had UCD in the driving seat going in at the break and once they got ahead, they rarely looked like surrendering their lead.

Waterford were coming off the back of a turbulent week.

Manager Marc Bircham was unexpectedly sacked on Tuesday following a dispute with the club’s hierarchy.

As a consequence, ex-Tottenham defender Ian Hendon was put in the dugout and listed as ‘manager’ on the teamsheet for today’s game to assist Dave Bell and the rest of the staff.

Bircham still turned up at the match though, as he joined the travelling support in attendance.

UCD, who had a considerably less eventful week off the pitch, were unchanged from last Friday’s 2-0 win over Bray Wanderers in the First Division playoff final.

Waterford, meanwhile, made four alterations from the 0-0 draw in their final league match of the season against St Pat’s, as their ninth-place finish in the Premier Division was confirmed.

Darragh Power, John Martin, Jack Stafford and Greg Halford came into the side, with each of them returning from suspension, while Shane Griffin, Niall O’Keefe, Jeremie Milambo and Ronaldo Green all dropped to the bench.

The sides had already met once this season, with Waterford prevailing 3-2 in the FAI Cup quarter-final at Belfield.

marc-bircham-in-the-crowd Marc Bircham in the crowd. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Waterford started aggressively and were rewarded in the fifth minute.

UCD failed to deal with a long throw from Jack Stafford. John Martin then laid the ball off to Wordsworth on the edge of the area, and the 32-year-old Englishman fired home superbly.

The Students hadn’t got to grips with the occasion at all in the opening 10 minutes. They were giving the ball away too cheaply and struggling to deal with Waterford’s more physical and direct approach.

Whelan’s frustration was evident as he dragged Kyle Ferguson to the floor after a tussle between the pair amid a fervent atmosphere at Richmond Park.

Gradually though, Andy Myler’s side came into it more. Whelan went on a fine individual run in the 17th minute and his cross just missed Ireland U21 teammate Liam Kerrigan.

Then, in the 25th minute, the teams were level. The lively Kerrigan put in a dangerous low cross that was converted from close range at the back post by Keane.

Waterford almost restored their advantage immediately, however. An in-swinging Junior Quitirna free-kick was headed inches wide by Wordsworth.

With 15 minutes of the first half remaining, UCD went close again. Whelan found Kerrigan who weaved his way around a couple of players before his low shot forced a decent save from Brian Murphy. 

Shortly thereafter though, UCD were in front. Keane found space in the area and his clipped cross was parried by Murphy, but Whelan was quickest to react and the youngster had a simple job of slotting home.

There were no more clear-cut chances for the remainder of the half, but there was no doubt that, following a lacklustre start, UCD had grown into the game and were worth their lead at the break.

The frustration from the strong Waterford contingent was evident, as their side were looking increasingly one dimensional and short of ideas in attack.

quintira-junior-armando-and-sean-brennan Waterford's Quintira Junior Armando and Sean Brennan of UCD. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Waterford pushed more bodies forward in the second half and were nearly rewarded in the 52nd minute, as Junior Quitirna curled an effort just wide from the edge of the area.

UCD’s pacy attackers, meanwhile, continued to pose a big threat as they had more space to exploit on the break.

The Students nearly got a third just after the hour mark. Murphy failed to hold onto Paul Doyle’s corner, but Sam Todd could only find the side-netting with his follow up from a tight angle.

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By this point, it was getting tense on and off the pitch, with UCD boss Myler receiving a booking for his angry protests on the sideline. 

The dying minutes were stop-start, with a couple of injuries disrupting the flow of the game much to Waterford’s frustration.

Hendon’s men were struggling to create openings, and seldom tested their opponents’ defence aside from a couple of set pieces that amounted to very little.

Waterford’s misery was increased in the 87th minute, as substitute O’Keefe was dismissed.

He picked up a second booking for a cynical trip on Kerrigan, who continued to prove a thorn in his opponents’ side.

The expected late Waterford rally never really came, and Keane came close to adding a third, as his low shot on the counter was saved by the legs of Murphy.

There could be no arguments about the result when the final whistle sounded, as UCD players celebrated in ecstasy while Waterford’s stars showed their dejection.

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  7. Liam Kerrigan 21. Paul Doyle (Dignam 90) 10. Colm Whelan.

Subs: 16. Carl Williams 5. Luke Boore 8. Mark Dignam 9. Danu Kinsella Bishop 11. Ciarán Behan 12. Adam Lennon 14. Eoin Farrell 15. Adam Verdon 30. Evan Caffrey.

Waterford FC: 1. Brian Murphy 2. Darragh Power (O’Keefe 46) 3. Cameron Evans 6. Kyle Ferguson (Griffin 63) 8. Anthony Wordsworth 11. Junior Quitirna 12. John Martin 19. Jack Stafford (Ronaldo 86) 20. Greg Halford 44. Phoenix Patterson 46. Eddie Nolan

Subs: 13. Matthew Connor 5. George Forrest 7. Shane Griffin 14. Niall O’Keefe 15. Jeremie Milambo 16. Ronaldo Green 21. Isaac Tshipamba 26. Callum Stringer 45. Jamal Dupree.

Referee: Paul McLaughlin (Donegal).

About the author:

Paul Fennessy  / reports from Richmond Park

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